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Nó bain triail as sean-eochairfhocail (Roimh 2016)

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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)

Déardaoin | 01 Meitheamh 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 Commission’s refusal to give full public access to documents concerning a Horizon 2020 mineral exploration research project (cases 1132/2022/OAM and 1374/2022/OAM)

Dé Luain | 17 Aibreán 2023

The case concerned the European Commission’s refusal to give full public access to documents concerning a Horizon 2020 mineral exploration research project implemented by a pan-European consortium. The complainant, an environmental organisation from Spain, was interested in the implementation of the project at a Spanish mine, San Finx.

The Commission granted only partial access to the documents, arguing that their full disclosure would have undermined the commercial interest of the consortium’s members.

After reviewing the documents, the Ombudsman considered that they contain information that can be understood as being “environmental information” within the meaning of the EU Aarhus Regulation. Such information should benefit from greater transparency. She asked the Commission to review its position with a view to granting the widest possible public access. The Commission maintained its position that no further access can be granted.

While the Ombudsman regretted the Commission’s decision not to disclose more parts of the documents at stake, she acknowledged that the Commission has already made information publicly available about the research project and, in particular, about the activities at the San Finx mine. In view of this, the Ombudsman considered that further inquiries into this matter are not justified.

Having said that, the Ombudsman is concerned about the Commission’s application of the EU Aarhus Regulation and the Aarhus Convention when assessing requests for public access to documents. She emphasised that the exceptions to granting public access have to be interpreted in a restrictive way as regards environmental information and reminded the Commission that transparency in this area is crucial to enhance the legitimacy of, and public trust in, the EU’s activities.