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Recommendation on practices the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) has in place for dealing with requests for access to documents (case OI/04/2022)

Thursday | 01 June 2023

The case concerns practices that the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) applies when handling requests for public access to documents that it considers imprecise or that concern a large amount of documents or very long documents.

The practices involve suspending the statutory time-limits or not applying them at all.

The Ombudsman took the view that such practices are not in line with the EU legislation on public access to documents. That legislation requires requests to be handled promptly. Documents and information sought by requesters can lose relevance if delays occur. This is particularly so for civil society actors seeking to engage in work relating to the protection of fundamental rights. Moreover, if Frontex’s processing of the requests for public access takes too much time, there is a risk that this is perceived as deliberate, so as to avoid timely public scrutiny.

The Ombudsman therefore found maladministration and asked Frontex in this recommendation to cease applying the practices in question.

Decision on the European Parliament’s handling of a request for public access to correspondence between the chair of a delegation and an interest organisation (1264/2022/PB)

Tuesday | 30 May 2023

The case concerned a request for access to correspondence between the chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with Israel and an interest organisation. The Parliament had replied to the complainant that it did not hold such documents.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry showed that Parliament distinguishes  between ‘Parliament documents’, which include documents Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) receive or send in an official parliamentary function, such as in their capacity as chairs of delegations, and documents that pertain to the individual sphere of MEPs in the exercise of their free mandate. While the former category of documents falls within the scope of the EU legislation on public access to documents, the latter does not.

It is difficult to give effect to this distinction in practice.

Given the difficulty distinguishing between the two categories of documents and in the absence of any written guidance on when statements or correspondence of chairs are officially in the name of the chair and when not, the Ombudsman considered that the Parliament had dealt with the complainant’s request in a reasonable manner and closed the inquiry finding no maladministration.

However, the Ombudsman made two suggestions to the Parliament. In particular, she suggested that Parliament should establish guidance on how in practice to draw the line between Parliament documents and those documents that pertain to the sphere of individual MEPs.