Thursday

16th Sep 2021

EUobserved

Some deadlines 'more equal' than others at EU commission

  • The European Commission refuses to investigate appeal requests on access to documents if they are filed too late (Photo: Peter Teffer)

It is one of the first rules in the journalism handbook: thou shalt meet thy deadline.

I have learned the hard way that this applies even more when requesting EU documents.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

When EU citizens are unhappy with the outcome of an access to documents request under the EU's transparency regulation, there is the option of appeal.

This needs to be done within 15 working days of receiving the initial answer.

In August 2018, I filed a request with the commission's directorate-general for mobility and transport (DG Move), asking for documents related to several high-level meetings about self-driving cars.

In the response which followed, DG Move said that there were no documents at all about a meeting between Friedrich-Nikolaus Von Peter, a cabinet member of EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc, and Google.

I found this difficult to believe.

At the very least, you would expect there to be email correspondence between Von Peter and Google, to establish the meeting.

But it also seemed reasonable to expect the existence of some email or summary that lists what was said during that meeting.

Unsatisfied with the response, I filed an appeal, known in EU jargon as a 'confirmatory application'.

However, I filed my appeal way too late.

Instead of responding within 15 working days, I only submitted my confirmatory application two months later.

The commission's secretariat-general, in charge of dealing with such appeals, was unforgiving.

"I regret to inform you that your confirmatory application was lodged outside the applicable deadline defined in article 7(2) of regulation 1049/2001," the commission said.

"Consequently, the commission is not in a position to handle your application," it added.

Fair enough, you might say. And normally, I would have.

But there was something inconsistent about the commission's stubborn refusal to look beyond the letter of the law.

DG Move's response itself was already late.

The regulation determines a response should be given within 15 working days, with a possibility to extend that deadline with another 15 working days.

DG Move did so, but then unilaterally extended the deadline to reply with an additional 10 working days, for which there is no legal basis.

There have been other cases in which commission departments were much slower to respond.

In 2018, EUobserver filed access to documents related to the Southern Gas Corridor project.

The initial reply from the directorate-general energy arrived only after more than two months, while the commission secretariat-general needed more than four months to respond to the appeal of that case.

Such delays in responding are no anomaly.

Ombudsman to 'monitor the situation'

Last month I turned to the European Ombudsman, asking for an opinion about the commission's unequal treatment of deadlines.

The ombudsman's head of inquiries, Tina Nilsson, said she was unfortunately not able to deal with my complaint, precisely because the "confirmatory application was not submitted to the European commission within the applicable deadline".

She said that the commission "was not acting unlawfully in refusing to deal with the confirmatory application".

However, she also wrote that "the ombudsman notes your reasonable concern at the apparent inconsistency at times in the commission's approach to the deadlines in Regulation 1049, enforcing them strictly against complainants while not always meeting them itself".

"We will continue to monitor this situation, with a view to considering whether a closer examination might be useful," she added.

Getting secret EU trilogue documents: a case study

On Thursday, the European Parliament will vote on a political deal on organic farming, following 19 months of behind-closed-doors negotiations. EUobserver here details a five-month odyssey to get access to the secret documents that led to the deal.

Exclusive

EIB 'maladministration' verdict over VW fraud report

EUobserver should have been granted access to a fraud investigation into a €400m EU loan to Volkswagen Group (VW), and recommendations on how to avoid future misuse, the European Ombudsman has concluded.

Catalan MEPs lose immunity, slam 'political persecution'

Catalan separatist MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí lost their parliamentary immunity - a result they have hailed as a "political victory" for bringing the conflict between Catalonia and Spain closer to the heart of Europe.

12-month Future EU Conference is 'impossible', expert warns

The debate about the much-delayed Conference on the Future of Europe so far has been locked in endless institutional infighting over who should lead the event - lowering the expectations about what can be achieved in the coming months.

News in Brief

  1. Bulgaria's president appoints interim government
  2. Navalny poised to win EU human rights prize
  3. Poland will not leave EU, says Kaczyński
  4. Eurozone wages fall for first time in a decade
  5. Israel joins EU digital Covid-certificate programme
  6. Johnson reshuffles UK cabinet: new foreign minister
  7. Macron says French forces killed Islamic State leader in Sahara
  8. Finance minister tipped to become Sweden's first female PM

MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute

The Belgian and Bulgarian prosecutors who were appointed had also not been the experts' first choice. Belgian prosecutor Jean-Michel Verelst has challenged the council's decision at the European Court of Justice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. Von der Leyen issues rallying cry for more EU sovereignty
  2. Von der Leyen doubles up on vaccine-donation pledge
  3. Why won't EU forces fight together, von der Leyen asks?
  4. EU pitches infrastructure investment plan to rival China
  5. EU diplomats oppose common forest-monitoring rules
  6. EU 'stands by Afghans' but wants most kept away
  7. Russia's biggest enemy? Its own economy
  8. Textbook hypocrisy: EU's new low point on Palestine

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us