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Decision on how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) dealt with a request for public access to documents it had disclosed following previous access to document requests (case 4/2022/SF)

Vrijdag | 09 september 2022

The complainant, a journalist, sought public access to all documents that Frontex had disclosed, following requests for public access, in the period from 2016 to 2018, and since November 2020 until the day of his request in December 2021. He also sought access to the requests made.

Frontex considered the request voluminous and suggested to the complainant that he split the request into several individual applications to be dealt with consecutively. The complainant refused and turned to the Ombudsman.

In the course of the inquiry the complainant limited his request to the documents already disclosed, which Frontex transmitted to him, albeit with some delay. Therefore, and although the Ombudsman is not convinced that Frontex’s treatment of the request was in line with the standards that citizens are entitled to expect from EU authorities, she decided to close the case. However, she asked Frontex to report to her on how in the future, it will make available in its public register documents that have been disclosed following public access requests.

 

Decision on the refusal by the Council of the EU to grant public access to documents concerning informal arrangements with non-EU countries about returning migrants (readmission agreements) (case 815/2022/MIG)

Donderdag | 01 september 2022

The case concerned a request by two researchers for public access to documents related to the informal agreements on return and readmission of irregular migrants that the EU has concluded with six non-EU countries. The Council of the EU refused access, arguing that disclosure could undermine international relations.

The Ombudsman inquiry team inspected the documents at issue and obtained additional explanations from the Council, including confidential information. Based on this and considering the wide margin of discretion that EU institutions enjoy where they consider that the public interest as regards international relations is at risk, the Ombudsman found that the Council’s decision to refuse access was not manifestly wrong. Given that the public interest at stake cannot be superseded by another public interest that is deemed more important, the Ombudsman closed the case finding no maladministration. That said, every effort should be made to reassure the public that the fundamental rights of migrants are respected and adequate safeguards are in place in this process.

Decision on the European Commission's refusal to give public access to an informal arrangement with the Gambia about returning migrants (case 1271/2022/MIG)

Donderdag | 01 september 2022

The case concerned a request for public access to documents related to an informal agreement on return and readmission of irregular migrants that the EU concluded with the Gambia. The Commission refused access, arguing that disclosure could undermine international relations.

The Ombudsman inquiry team inspected the document at issue as well as, in the context of a parallel inquiry, five similar agreements with other non-EU countries and related documents. Based on these inspections and considering the wide margin of discretion that EU institutions enjoy where they consider that the public interest as regards international relations is at risk, the Ombudsman found that the Commission’s decision to refuse access was not manifestly wrong. Given that the public interest at stake cannot be superseded by another public interest that is deemed more important, the Ombudsman closed the case finding no maladministration. She noted, however, that every effort should be made to reassure the public that the fundamental rights of migrants are sufficiently protected and adequate safeguards are in place in this process.

Besluit over de wijze waarop de Europese Commissie een verzoek om toegang van het publiek tot e-mails van haar in Griekenland gevestigde vertegenwoordigers betreffende de migratiesituatie in twee hotspots heeft behandeld (zaak 211/2022/TM)

Dinsdag | 28 juni 2022

De indiener van de klacht verzocht de Europese Commissie om toegang tot e-mails van haar in Griekenland gevestigde vertegenwoordigers betreffende de migratiesituatie in twee hotspots. Op basis van deze e-mails en andere informatie stelt de Commissie “dagelijkse verslagen” en “migratiebeheersverslagen” op. In antwoord op het verzoek van de indiener van de klacht verleende de Commissie ruime toegang tot de dagelijkse verslagen en migratiebeheersverslagen, maar verzuimde zij de e-mails van haar vertegenwoordigers ter plaatse aan te wijzen als vallend onder het toepassingsgebied van het verzoek.

Tijdens het onderzoek heeft de Commissie verduidelijkt dat zij de e-mails in kwestie niet beschouwt als “documenten” in de zin van de EU-wetgeving inzake de toegang van het publiek tot documenten. De Commissie was evenmin van mening dat de e-mails voldeden aan de criteria voor registratie in haar documentbeheersysteem. De Commissie bevestigde tevens dat de door de indiener van de klacht gevraagde e-mails niet meer bestaan, aangezien ze overeenkomstig het geldende bewaringsbeleid zijn verwijderd.

Aangezien de door de indiener van de klacht gevraagde e-mails “documenten” waren in de zin van de EU-wetgeving inzake de toegang van het publiek tot documenten, had de Commissie moeten vaststellen en beoordelen of het publiek al dan niet toegang kon worden verleend tot de documenten die op het moment van het verzoek om toegang nog bestonden. Het feit dat de Commissie dit niet heeft gedaan, komt neer op wanbeheer.

Aangezien de Commissie de Ombudsman heeft meegedeeld dat de documenten in kwestie niet meer bestaan, zou een aanbeveling waarin de Commissie wordt verzocht ze nu op te sporen en te beoordelen geen nuttig doel dienen en is verder onderzoek in deze zaak niet gerechtvaardigd.

De Ombudsman roept de Commissie op om alle documenten die onder het bereik van enig toekomstig verzoek vallen op te sporen en te beoordelen in overeenstemming met de EU-wetgeving inzake de toegang van het publiek tot documenten en in het licht van de bevindingen van de Ombudsman in deze zaak.

 

Decision on the European Commission’s failure to take a final decision in a timely manner on a request for public access to documents concerning a project funded under the Internal Security Fund (case 1896/2021/MIG)

Dinsdag | 17 mei 2022

The case concerned the European Commission’s failure to reply in time to a request for public access to documents concerning an EU funded project on the legal framework and capability in terms of search and rescue of the Libyan Coast Guard.

The Ombudsman found that there were shortcomings in how the Commission dealt with the public access request with the result that it took too long. However, since the Ombudsman is now examining, from a systemic perspective, the time taken by the Commission to deal with requests for public access to documents, she considered that no further inquiries were justified in this case. She thus closed the inquiry.