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Decision in case 1794/2019/OAM on the European Commission’s refusal to provide full access to documents relating to an event attended by Commission officials and by a former Commission head of unit

Friday | 11 December 2020

The case concerned the European Commission’s refusal to grant public access to names contained in documents related to a corporate event attended by Commission officials and by a former Commission head of unit. The complainant, a journalist, wished to get access to the information in the documents to investigate whether the former Commission head of unit, who had left the EU civil service to take up a position in a multinational company, had acted in accordance with his legal obligations not to lobby former colleagues.

The Ombudsman made a proposal for a solution, asking the Commission to provide the complainant with a copy of the requested documents without redacting the name of the former Commission head of unit. The Commission rejected the Ombudsman’s proposal, arguing that the complainant had provided only abstract and general references to possible wrongdoings by a former staff member and that such concerns could not justify disclosing the personal data to him.

The Ombudsman found that the Commission’s refusal to disclose the respective documents without redacting the specific personal data to be maladministration. In a subsequent recommendation to the Commission, the Ombudsman reiterated her view that the requested documents should be disclosed without redacting the name of the former head of unit.

The Ombudsman regrets that the Commission has rejected her recommendation. She has drawn attention, on many occasions, to the difficulties involved in enforcing the conditions attached to officials’ ‘revolving doors’ moves. Assuring the highest level of transparency is fundamental so that problems can be identified and addressed. The Commission’s lack of full public disclosure in this case will not help in terms of public confidence in the Commission’s management of ‘revolving door’ situations.