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Recommendation on issues related to how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) communicates with citizens in relation to its access to documents portal (Joined Cases 1261/2020 and 1361/2020)

Tuesday | 21 June 2022

The case concerned primarily Frontex’s decision not to communicate any more by email with applicants who request public access to documents. Frontex obliges citizens to use its online access portal. This causes a number of unnecessary problems for individual applicants as well as for transparency platforms that civil society organisations have set up to help further the EU’s aim of working as openly as possible. 

The Ombudsman could not find justifications for Frontex’s decision. She therefore issues a recommendation that Frontex should allow applicants to communicate with it by email, in full and without resort to its current access to documents portal.

The Ombudsman moreover suggests that Frontex should dedicate the resources that are required for handling the large number of access requests that it is likely to receive on a regular basis going forward.

Closing note on the Strategic Initiative on how the European Commission makes available information about meetings between commissioners and organisations or self-employed individuals (SI/8/2021/AMF)

Friday | 11 March 2022

The Ombudsman launched an initiative looking into how the European Commission implements its commitment to make available information about meetings between commissioners and organisations or self-employed individuals.

The Ombudsman wrote to the Commission President, urging her to remind commissioners of their obligations to publish information on meetings with organisations or self-employed individuals within two weeks of the date of the meeting.

The Commission replied to the Ombudsman informing her of its efforts to remind commissioners of the above obligations, including a recent note to the heads of the personal offices of commissioners (cabinets) circulated in January 2022.

The Ombudsman welcomes the Commission’s efforts and, since the dedicated transparency websites of the commissioners have been updated, she closes the initiative.

Decision on the European Parliament’s refusal to give public access to documents related to the ‘EU-China Friendship Group’ (case 1542/2021/SF)

Friday | 28 January 2022

The case concerned a request for access to four documents relating to the ‘EU-China Friendship Group’, an unofficial grouping of MEPs.

The President of the European Parliament had asked Parliament’s Advisory Committee on the Conduct of Members to assess whether the chair of the Group had complied with his obligation to declare any support received in relation to the Group’s activity. The four documents were part of the procedure before that Committee.

Parliament refused access to the four documents, referring in essence to the confidentiality of the procedure before the Advisory Committee.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry team examined the four documents and met with the relevant staff of Parliament to obtain further information on its decision to refuse access. The Ombudsman found that Parliament’s decision to refuse access was reasonable, given the relevant case law.

The prospect of public disclosure of documents, such as those at issue in this case, would risk depriving the Advisory Committee of necessary information in the context of its investigations. Moreover, disclosure in this case would result in little or no additional substantive information about the matter being made available. The Ombudsman therefore closed the inquiry with a finding of no maladministration.