24th Nov 2020

Commission guilty of 'maladministration' over car company letters

  • The commission has consistently refused to release correspondence on the issue (Photo: Jaeger-Meister)

The European Commission has been found guilty of ‘maladministration' by the EU ombudsman for a second time for having refused to release correspondence between itself and European car manufacturers.

"By failing to grant full access to the parts of the ‘briefings' relating to carbon dioxide emissions from cars, the commission committed an instance of maladministration," the ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, said in a 15-page assessment of the EU executive's stonewalling over the issue.

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In 2007, at the height of a furious battle between green groups and car companies over whether the EU should legislate on carbon emissions from cars or accept voluntary pledges from industry, Friends of the Earth asked the commission for access to documents relating to meetings between then-industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen and car manufacturers.

The commission only gave partial access, releasing some but not all of the letters.

In March, the ombudsman attacked the commission for refusing to release correspondence between itself and Porsche regarding the same CO2 issue, saying that its "unco-operative attitude ... runs counter to the very principle of the rule of law on which the union is founded."

The commission days later released the Porsche letters, but only after they had been heavily blacked out.

Then in July, Mr Diamandouros found the commission guilty of maladministration for the first time for this censorship.

Now in a second finding of maladministration issued on 24 September but yet to be released publicly, the ombudsman has said he "does not understand why [other] documents ... could not be fully disclosed as well."

Throughout the controversy, Brussels has maintained that to release such information would compromise its ability to have frank discussions with sector stakeholders ahead of legislative moves.

However, in the assessment, seen by EUobserver, the ombudsman said that he "does not agree that a serious risk to the commission's ability to have preliminary discussions with stakeholders in preparation of new policies and thus to its decision making process exists."

Friends of the Earth's Paul de Clerck saluted the ombudsman's ruling.

"This is symptomatic of how the commission deals with not just documents but any information requests by civil society. If the commission is serious about transparency, then they really have to improve their performance," he told EUobserver.

In response, commission spokesman Michael Mann said: "Whenever we get access to documents requests, we have to make a judgment call in line with regulations on what can and cannot be disclosed. Those are the rules and we apply them."

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