EU Ombudsman Discounts National Interest Objections

17 December 2010

The European Ombudsman Dec. 15 said the European Commission should release documents originating in a member country notwithstanding objections to disclosure from that country’s authorities.

But while the Commission acquiesced in this specific case, the larger policy issue remains. And the Ombudsman announced his intention to investigate further.

The decision by Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros concerns documents originating from Spain concerning the construction of an industrial port in Granadilla, Tenerife. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a federation of environmental citizens’ organizations, was refused access to the documents by the Commission because objections to disclosure from the Spanish authorities, according to a press release from the Ombudsman’s office. The release said:

The Ombudsman pointed out, however, that if Member States request the Commission not to release documents it receives from them, they must give convincing arguments based on EU transparency rules. He noted that Spain has yet to provide such convincing arguments.

The Ombudsman had also called on the Commission to release internal documents concerning the construction of the Granadilla port. The Commission accepted this recommendation and released the documents, thus demonstrating its willingness to improve the transparency of its procedures.

The Ombudsman said the disclosure of all but one of the internal documents would not undermine the Commission’s decision-making process.

Policy Issue Not Decided

The disagreement may not be over, however. Although the Commission released the documents, it “maintained its refusal to release the documents originating from Spain, because of the Spanish authorities’ objections,” the Ombudsman’s office noted.

“While the Ombudsman strongly praised the Commission for releasing its internal documents, he criticised it for not having verified whether the reasoning of the Spanish authorities was convincing. He called on the Commission to take this critical remark into account in its ongoing dialogue with the Spanish authorities. Furthermore, the Ombudsman announced his plan to launch an investigation concerning the Commission’s, the Council’s and the European Parliament’s handling of requests for public access to documents originating from the Member States.”

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