The European Commission's refusal of public access to text messages exchanged between the Commission President and the CEO of a pharmaceutical company on the purchase of a COVID-19 vaccine
Case 1316/2021/MIG - Opened on Thursday | 16 September 2021 - Recommendation on Wednesday | 26 January 2022 - Institution concerned European Commission
The complainant sought public access from the European Commission to text messages and other documents concerning discussions between the Commission President and the CEO of a pharmaceutical company on the purchase of COVID 19 vaccines. The Commission said it could not provide access to any text messages, as no record had been kept of any such messages.
In the context of the Ombudsman’s inquiry, it emerged that the Commission does not consider that text messages generally fall under its internal criteria for document recording, due to the short-lived’ nature of their content. In dealing with the request, it had asked the Commission President’s personal office (cabinet) to identify only documents that fulfil its recording criteria. As such, the Commission President’s personal office was not required to identify any text messages, and the Commission therefore did not assess whether such messages should be disclosed.
The Ombudsman considers that this constituted maladministration. To address this, she made a recommendation that the Commission ask the Commission President’s personal office to search again for relevant text messages, making it clear that the search should not be limited to registered documents or documents that fulfil its recording criteria. If any text messages are subsequently identified, the Commission should assess whether the complainant can be granted public access to them.
The Ombudsman has received the Commission's reply and is analysing the details.