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Decision on how the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) dealt with a request for public access to documents related to a proposal to restrict lead in ammunition (case 2124/2021/MIG)

Monday | 14 November 2022

The case concerned a request for public access to documents held by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concerning lead in ammunition. EFSA took more than seven months to deal with the request, extending the deadline on various occasions, which prevented the complainant from using the documents in preparing a contribution to a public consultation organised by another EU agency.

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry and found maladministration in how EFSA had dealt with the complainant’s access request and, specifically, its failure to comply with the time limits set out in the EU legislation on public access to documents. She recommended that EFSA should cease its practice of extending the prescribed time limits beyond 30 working days when proposing a ‘fair solution’. She also recommended that EFSA should provide applicants at an early stage with a list of the documents it identifies where an access request is formulated in broad terms. 

EFSA replied positively to the Ombudsman’s recommendations, committing itself to changing its rules and practices to ensure that requests for public access to documents are processed swiftly. The Ombudsman closed the inquiry, welcoming EFSA’s positive response and the steps it has already taken and intends to take to implement her recommendations.

Decision on the Council of the European Union’s refusal to give full public access to documents related to negotiations on the draft ‘Digital Markets Act’ (case 1499/2021/SF)

Monday | 27 June 2022

The complainant, a network of journalists from several European countries, requested public access to Member States’ initial comments and questions on the legislative proposal for the Digital Markets Act. The Council refused full public access to the identified documents, arguing that full disclosure would undermine an ongoing decision-making process.

The Ombudsman noted that keeping the public informed about the progress of legislative procedures is a legal requirement. Timely access to legislative documents is crucial for citizens to exercise their treaty-based right to participate in the democratic life of the EU.

In this case, the Ombudsman found that the Council had not sufficiently demonstrated that disclosure of the requested documents would seriously affect, prolong or complicate its decision-making process. She therefore took the view that the Council’s refusal of public access constituted maladministration. She recommended that the Council grant full public access to the requested legislative documents.

In reply, the Council granted full public access to the requested documents. The Ombudsman welcomes the Council’s positive reply to her recommendation. She regrets, however, the time the Council has taken to provide public access. She notes that, due to the passage of more than one year since the request, the documents disclosed are no longer of use for the purpose the complainant had intended, that is, to inform citizens about an ongoing legislative process. Thus, the Ombudsman confirmed her finding of maladministration.

The Ombudsman calls on the Council to make available legislative documents at a time that will allow the public to participate effectively in the discussion.