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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)

Czwartek | 08 lipca 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.