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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.