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Decision on how the European Commission dealt with a request for public access to a letter concerning a report on an investigation into a fatal train accident in Spain (cases 710/2022/OAM and 716/2022/OAM)

Wednesday | 09 November 2022

The cases concerned how the European Commission dealt with two requests for public access to a letter sent by the Spanish authorities to the Commission concerning a report by the EU Agency for Railways in relation to a train accident in Spain in which 79 people died. The Commission initially refused access to the requested letter. The complainants asked the Commission to reconsider its position, but did not receive a final reply to their requests within the applicable deadlines.

The Ombudsman asked the Commission to reply without delay to the complainants’ requests. The Ombudsman inquiry team also inspected the letter in question. Based on the review of the letter, the Ombudsman was not convinced by the Commission’s arguments to refuse public access and asked to meet with the Commission to obtain more information.

The complainants informed the Ombudsman that, in the meantime, the letter had been disclosed by the Spanish authorities at national level. Since both complainants have now obtained access, no further inquiries into these cases are justified and the Ombudsman closes them.

Decision on the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency's (INEA) refusal to grant full public access to a document related to the Lyon-Turin base tunnel project (case 465/2021/VB)

Thursday | 27 January 2022

The case concerned the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency’s (INEA) refusal to grant full public access to an amendment to a grant agreement concerning the Lyon-Turin base tunnel project. INEA argued that full disclosure of the document would harm the commercial interests of the entities involved in the project and undermine the privacy and integrity of individuals.

Based on an inspection of the requested document, the Ombudsman considered that there was an overriding public interest in disclosing information related to delays in completing the project. The Ombudsman therefore proposed to the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA), which succeeded and replaced INEA on 1 April 2021, to review its position on the complainant’s request, with a view to granting the widest possible public access.

In its reply, CINEA agreed to grant wider access to the document. It argued, however, that further disclosure would undermine public security. It also noted that the public security exception in the EU’s law on public access to documents is absolute and cannot be overridden by a public interest.

The Ombudsman noted that the Agency had not previously relied on the public security exception and considered the reasoning provided by CINEA to that effect insufficient. She therefore suggested that CINEA provide the complainant with an appropriate statement of reasons supporting the application of the public security exception.

In reply, CINEA agreed to provide additional information to the complainant. The Ombudsman considers the additional information sufficient to ascertain the reason for CINEA’s reliance on the public security exception. In view of this additional information, the Ombudsman also considers it reasonable for CINEA to invoke the public security exception in this case.

As CINEA agreed to follow the Ombudsman’s suggestion, the Ombudsman closed the case with the conclusion that no further inquiries are justified.