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Decision on the European Commission's refusal to provide public access to the annex to a letter sent by the French Minister of the Interior to the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights concerning volunteer firefighters in France (case 1291/2021/DL)

Szerda | 08 szeptember 2021

The case concerned the refusal by the European Commission to disclose an annex to a letter concerning volunteer firefighters in France.

The Commission refused access to the document arguing that disclosure could undermine the protection of ongoing court proceedings and legal advice. 

The Ombudsman’s inquiry team examined the document and found that the Commission’s refusal to disclose the document was justified and in line with the EU rules on public access to documents. The Ombudsman thus closed the inquiry finding no maladministration.

Decision on the European Data Protection Board’s refusal to grant public access to the preparatory documents for its guidelines on the processing of personal data in the context of the provision of online services (case 386/2021/AMF)

Kedd | 07 szeptember 2021

The complainant asked the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) for public access to all documents related to the preparation of its guidelines on the processing of personal data in the context of the provision of online services to individuals. The EDPB identified 11 documents as falling under the scope of the complainant´s request, but granted access to only parts of two of those documents. In doing so it invoked exceptions provided for in the EU's rules on public access to documents, arguing notably that disclosure would undermine its internal decision-making process.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry team inspected the relevant documents and found that wider disclosure was unlikely to seriously undermine the EDPB´s decision-making process, given that it is already in the public domain that there were dissenting voices in the process of adopting the Guidelines. The EDPB had also not explained specifically how granting access to anonymised views of its members could lead to external pressure on them.

The Ombudsman therefore made a proposal for a solution to the EDPB that it reconsider its decision on the complainant´s request with a view to granting the widest possible access to the identified documents. 

The EDPB reacted positively to the Ombudsman´s proposal and granted wider access to the requested documents, in line with the Ombudsman´s observations. The complainant was satisfied with the EDPB´s reply. The Ombudsman therefore closed the case.

 

Decision on the European Commission’s refusal to grant access to preparatory documents relating to anti-dumping measures on imports of steel fasteners from China (case 1379/2020/MAS)

Hétfő | 06 szeptember 2021

The case concerned the refusal of the European Commission to grant public access to preparatory documents relating to anti-dumping measures on imports of steel fasteners from China. The Commission did not identify for the complainant the documents falling within the scope of his request and refused access without individually and specifically examining them. Instead, it invoked a general presumption of confidentiality based on the protection of commercial interests and the purpose of investigations.

The Ombudsman had doubts that a general presumption of confidentiality was applicable in this case, notably given that the documents in question are now more than nine years old. She made a proposal for a solution, asking the Commission to provide the complainant with a list of the documents covered by his request and to examine specifically and individually each of the documents with a view to considering their disclosure.

While the Commission produced a list of the documents in question, it refused to examine specifically and individually the documents covered by the request.

It is settled case-law that the Commission is not obliged to apply a general presumption - it is an option. The Commission could have made use of that option and thereby followed the Ombudsman’s proposal for solution, to deliver greater transparency in this case. As the Commission’s reply to the Ombudsman’s proposal does not indicate any flexibility on this matter, the Ombudsman considers it appropriate to close her inquiry at this stage setting out her findings.

She maintains her doubts that a general presumption of confidentiality was applicable in this case. She hopes the Court will clarify this issue when given the opportunity.