Saturday

20th Apr 2019

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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.

Lobby register transparency talks collapse

Efforts to set up a better transparency register for lobbyists have collapsed after two years of talks. The impasse revolves around the European Commission's insistence that the register also become mandatory for the European Parliament and Council.

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us