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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)

Poniedziałek | 17 kwietnia 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.

Decision on how the European Commission dealt with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the work of researchers participating in the EU-funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (joint cases 1242/2020/SF and 1380/2020/SF)

Czwartek | 01 lipca 2021

The complaints concerned the European Commission’s decision not to extend funding for those carrying out research under the EU-funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Programme (MSCA) following the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the work of researchers. The complainants considered that the measures the Commission put in place to support MSCA researchers during the COVID-19 crisis were insufficient, as they would not enable them to continue their work.

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into how the Commission communicated with project partners that received grants under the MSCA, and the researchers carrying out the work for those project partners, about the measures they could take to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on their projects.

During the inquiry, the Ombudsman shared her preliminary findings with the Commission. In particular, the inquiry showed that, overall, the Commission had taken appropriate action to communicate the measures that could be taken to support researchers according to the applicable rules. However, as no solution had been found for the complainants, she urged the Commission to explore whether additional funding could exceptionally be awarded to the complainants and researchers in similarly difficult situations.

The Commission broadly accepted the Ombudsman’s preliminary findings but reiterated that, due to legal and financial constraints, it cannot provide any exceptional funding.

The Ombudsman appreciates the difficult situation faced by many MSCA researchers due to the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, she acknowledges the Commission’s commitment to find solutions within the applicable rules for those researchers impacted. While it is regrettable that a solution could not be found for the complainants and researchers in similar situations, the Ombudsman closed the case as further inquiries would not result in a more satisfactory outcome for the complainants. However, she made two suggestions for improvement.