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Recommendation on the European Commission’s refusal to grant public access to documents concerning compliance with biofuels sustainability criteria under the Renewable Energy Directive (case 1527/2020/DL)

Monday | 08 November 2021

The complainant, who works in the biofuels sector, stated that he wished to obtain this information to monitor possible widespread fraud in the UCO sector, which may have negative consequences on tropical forests, biodiversity, climate and the EU’s domestic used oil collection and recycling sector.

The complainant sought public access to a list of all countries of origin of used cooking oil (UCO) for the years 2016 to 2019, together with the volumes of UCO feedstock collected for each country for each year, as reported by the voluntary certification schemes for biofuels sustainability to the European Commission under the Renewable Energy Directive.

The Commission said that it did not hold any document corresponding to the complainant’s request.

The Ombudsman found that the Commission held detailed information on the countries of origin and the volumes of UCO collected. That information was not contained in a single document, but rather was spread over a number of documents. Since the complainant was interested in receiving the information requested even if it was not compiled into a single document, the Ombudsman proposed that the Commission should review the documents it does hold containing this information with a view to disclosing them.

The Commission did not accept this solution proposal.

The Ombudsman is both concerned and disappointed with the Commission’s reply. Rather than taking the opportunity to ensure the complainant’s fundamental right of access to documents, the Commission reiterated that it does not hold any documents corresponding to the request and refused to review the documents requested. The Ombudsman cannot but consider that the Commission’s reply demonstrates a deliberate and inexplicable refusal to settle this case. This is particularly worrying in light of the concerns raised over the last years about the environmental impact of the EU’s import of UCO.

Consequently, the Ombudsman concluded that the Commission’s refusal to review the documents amounted to maladministration. She made a corresponding recommendation.

Decision in case 1944/2019/DL on the transparency of Member State positions on a proposal from the European Commission for a regulation implementing the Eco-design Directive

Tuesday | 09 February 2021

The complainant made a request for public access to positions taken by Member States on an implementing regulation laying down eco-design requirements for electronic displays. The Commission identified four audio recordings, in which Member State civil servants debate amendments to this regulation, and a related email as falling within the scope of the request. The Commission refused access, arguing that disclosure would undermine its decision-making process and infringe the EU data protection rights of the civil servants.

The Ombudsman took the view that the Commission was wrong to refuse public access to the documents. Rather than undermining the decision-making process, disclosure would strengthen it, by enhancing its legitimacy in the eyes of citizens. Moreover, the Commission’s arguments that public access would give rise to a data infringement lacked merit. She thus recommended the Commission to disclose the documents.

The Commission has chosen to reject the Ombudsman’s recommendation. The Ombudsman is disappointed, especially given the importance of transparency in enabling citizens to hold Member States accountable for their positions taken on EU draft laws.

The Ombudsman confirms that the Commission’s refusal to grant access to the audio recordings and the email constitutes maladministration and closes the case on this basis.

Decision in case 1416/2019/VB on the inclusion by the European Commission of a project to construct a gas terminal in Croatia on the list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI) - cross-border energy infrastructure projects - and its subsequent decision to grant the project EU funding

Wednesday | 16 December 2020

The case concerned a project to construct a floating liquefied natural gas terminal on a Croatian island. The complainants were concerned that the European Commission had included the project on the list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI) - cross-border energy infrastructure projects - and granted it EU funding under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). The complainants considered that the project did not meet the relevant criteria to be included on the PCI list and to receive EU funding.

The Ombudsman looked into the matter and did not find anything to suggest that the Commission committed a manifest error of assessment when including the project on the PCI list and granting it EU funding. As the Commission has now provided clear explanations addressing the arguments raised by the complainants, the Ombudsman finds that no further inquiries into this complaint are justified.