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Decision on the Council of the EU’s refusal to provide full public access to documents related to trilogue negotiations on motor vehicle emissions (case 360/2021/TE)

Monday | 11 October 2021

The case concerned the Council of the EU’s refusal to grant full public access to documents relating to trilogue negotiations between the Council, the European Parliament, and the European Commission on draft legislation for vehicle emissions. The Council granted access to only parts of the documents it identified as falling under the request, arguing that disclosing the remaining parts could undermine the ongoing decision-making process.

The inspection of the documents by the Ombudsman’s inquiry team showed that the redacted parts contain the Council’s strategy for the negotiations with Parliament. These redacted parts had not been shared with Parliament at the time the Council refused access to the complainant.

The Ombudsman acknowledged that releasing this when the negotiations were ongoing could seriously undermine the Council’s negotiating position. As such, the redactions were justified in that context. However, she took the view that, once compromises on these issues had been reached in the trilogue negotiations, the relevant parts of the documents should be disclosed.

In the course of the inquiry, the Council identified three additional documents that it had shared with Parliament ahead of trilogue meetings. The Ombudsman took the view that they constitute important legislative documents, and that disclosing them would enable the public to properly follow the trilogue negotiations and to try to influence the legislative process at this crucial stage. The Ombudsman thus proposed to the Council that it should disclose these three documents. The Council accepted the proposal.

The complainant expressed his dissatisfaction with the outcome, notably as regards the Ombudsman’s assessment upholding the Council’s decision not to disclose certain parts of the documents while the negotiations were ongoing. The Ombudsman thus closed the inquiry, confirming her assessment and setting out in greater detail the conclusions she had reached.

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)

Wednesday | 08 September 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)

Tuesday | 07 September 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.