EU Ombudsman Says ECB Being Too Secretive

7 March 2014

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has chastised the Governing Council of the European Central Bank for blocking disclosure of an ECB letter called on the Irish government to take swift action to protect the stability of the Irish financial system.

“I regret that the Governing Council of the ECB has wasted an opportunity to apply the principle that, in a democracy, transparency should be the rule and secrecy the exception,” said O’Reilly, the former Irish information commissioner, in a press release.

Irish journalist Gavin Sheridan in December 2011 asked for the letter from the ECB’s then President, Jean-Claude Trichet, to the Irish Finance Minister in November 2010.

O’Reilly, who no power to order disclosure of the letter, read it and reported, “Following an inspection of the letter, I am unconvinced by the Governing Council’s explanation for continuing to keep it secret.”

She said the ECB was right to refuse its release in 20122, when it said there was a need to protect Ireland’s financial stability, but not now.

The ECB Governing Council said confidentiality remains necessary to protect the public interest as regards monetary policy in the European Union and financial stability in Ireland.

Read Sheridan’s take on the matter.

The refusal yet again emphasises the culture of secrecy in which many European institutions operate. Despite the clear public interest in releasing the letter which the Ombudsman acknowledges, the ECB clearly believes it can operate with impunity. The decisions of the ECB, and its communications with the elected governments of Member States, are ones that European citizens should have access to, particularly in this context where Ireland has exited from the bailout and communications are a matter of record. European citizens seem to be powerless in the face of European bureaucracy and an endemic culture of secrecy within it.

Similar communications to Member States have variously come into the public domain, in Italy via a leak to the media and in Spain via a book written by the country’s former premier.

Unfortunately the EU Ombudsman has no power to compel the ECB to release the letter – her office should be empowered in this regard.

The ECB regularly invokes the need to protect monetary policy and the financial stability of the Union and its Member States when refusing access to information according to a 2013 report by Access Info.

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