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Decision on how the European Commission involved stakeholders and managed conflicts of interest in reviewing the protection goals for assessing environmental risks of pesticides (case 1402/2020/TE)

Lunes | 08 noviembre 2021

The case concerned an ongoing review by the European Commission of the criteria for assessing environmental risks in pesticides, the ‘specific protection goals’. The complainant, an environmental organisation, was concerned with the method being proposed and alleged that there are conflicts of interest with the experts involved in devising this method.

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into one aspect of the complaint, which concerned the Commission’s selection of an expert in a stakeholder workshop that took place at the beginning of the review in September 2019. The Ombudsman noted that the Commission had not asked the expert in question to submit a declaration of interest ahead of this workshop.

The Ombudsman took the view that the Commission should have required the expert to submit a declaration of interest. This is because of the nature of the workshop, which concerned the implementation of EU legislation in a controversial area, the role of the expert therein and the fact that the expert was presented as being independent. The disclosure of any interests, which could give rise to a conflict of interest, is essential to ensure public trust in the policies that result from such processes and the legitimacy of such policies in the eyes of the public.

As the Commission asked the expert to submit a declaration of interest in the meantime, the Ombudsman does not see the need to pursue the matter further. Having said that, the Ombudsman expects that the Commission will require, assess and publish declarations of interest of experts invited in their personal capacity to similar future events, and she is making a suggestion to that effect.

The Ombudsman also examined the complainant’s claims regarding the substance of the declaration of interest, namely that it was incomplete and that the Commission did not assess it in order to identify any conflicts of interest. The Ombudsman found the Commission’s assessment to be reasonable. She thus closed the inquiry.

Decisión sobre la negativa del Consejo de la UE a conceder pleno acceso público a los documentos relacionados con las negociaciones tripartitas sobre las emisiones de los vehículos de motor (caso 360/2021/TE)

Lunes | 11 octubre 2021

El caso se refería a la negativa del Consejo de la UE a conceder pleno acceso público a los documentos relacionados con las negociaciones tripartitas entre el Consejo, el Parlamento Europeo y la Comisión Europea sobre el proyecto de legislación para las emisiones de los vehículos de motor. El Consejo solo concedió acceso a ciertas partes de los documentos que identificó como relativas a la solicitud y argumentó que la divulgación de las partes restantes podría socavar el proceso de toma de decisiones en curso.

La inspección de los documentos por parte del equipo de investigación de la Defensora del Pueblo Europeo mostró que las partes eliminadas contienen la estrategia del Consejo para las negociaciones con el Parlamento. Estas partes eliminadas no se habían compartido con el Parlamento en el momento en que el Consejo denegó el acceso al reclamante.

La Defensora del Pueblo Europeo reconoció que la divulgación de estos datos cuando las negociaciones estaban en curso podría socavar gravemente la posición negociadora del Consejo. Como tal, la eliminación de dichas partes estaba justificada en ese contexto; sin embargo, consideró que, una vez alcanzados los acuerdos sobre estas cuestiones en las negociaciones del diálogo tripartito, las partes pertinentes de los documentos debían divulgarse.

En el curso de la investigación, el Consejo identificó tres documentos adicionales que había compartido con el Parlamento antes de las reuniones a tres bandas. La Defensora del Pueblo Europeo consideró que constituyen importantes documentos legislativos y que su divulgación permitiría al público seguir adecuadamente las negociaciones tripartitas e intentar influir en el proceso legislativo en esta fase crucial. Así pues, la Defensora del Pueblo Europeo propuso al Consejo que divulgara estos tres documentos. El Consejo aceptó la propuesta.

El reclamante expresó su insatisfacción al respecto, especialmente en lo que se refiere a la evaluación de la Defensora del Pueblo Europeo que sostenía la decisión del Consejo de no hacer públicas ciertas partes de los documentos mientras las negociaciones estaban en curso. La Defensora del Pueblo Europeo cerró así la investigación, confirmando su evaluación y exponiendo con mayor detalle las conclusiones a las que había llegado.

Decision on how the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) handled a request for public access to documents related to a project funded under Horizon 2020 (case 46/2021/OAM)

Jueves | 08 julio 2021

The case concerned the partial refusal by the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) to grant public access to documents related to a project funded under Horizon 2020. The documents in question concerned deliverables and amendments to the original grant agreement. EASME provided partial access to three amendments to the grant agreement but refused to disclose the rest of the documents identified, relying on the need to protect personal data, the need to protect the commercial interests of the beneficiary, and the need to protect its decision-making.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry team inspected the documents. On this basis, the Ombudsman considered that EASME’s refusal to disclose the documents concerning deliverables was justified, given that the deliverables in question had been deemed confidential in the grant agreement. Concerning EASME’s partial refusal to disclose the amendments made to the grant agreement, the Ombudsman proposed that EASME grant wider access, given that the beneficiary itself had published the original grant agreement and that there were therefore no commercial interests to be protected with respect to those parts of the agreement which had remained unchanged.

In reply, the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA), which succeeded and replaced EASME on 1 April 2021, maintained the view that access had to be denied at the time. However, it stressed that a new public access request would be assessed in light of the new circumstances, which may lead to a wider disclosure of the documents at issue.

The Ombudsman regrets that EISMEA did not accept her proposal for a solution and finds its explanations unconvincing. She finds it sufficient to put these views on the record and to close the case, given that pursuing it would have no practical implications for the complainant. She trusts that EISMEA will deal promptly with any follow-up request from the complainant to the documents in question and, more generally, will uphold its publication obligations in line with the grant agreement. This will help secure the right of the public to be adequately informed about the implementation of EU funded projects.