On 6 January 2015, the European Ombudsman, the EU authority dealing with maladministration in the institutions of the European Union, adopted ten recommendations for the Commission to become transparent in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. In her decision, the Ombudsman followed recommendations made by EDRi in our response to the public consultation on the transparency of the TTIP.
The Commission argued in several occasions that it would not publish any US document or common EU-US texts because that would undermine “international relations”. Now the Ombudsman challenges such line of argumentation, saying that the European Commission must explain how detrimental that would be. After all, access to public documents is a fundamental right of EU citizens. “[T]he mere fact of US displeasure that a document would be released, is not sufficient”, she firmly stated.
The European Ombudsman requested the Commission to provide a comprehensive list of all the documents, including those it intends to keep in secret. It seems obvious that documents shall be easier to access and that they should be disclosed in a timely manner. If a document “is available to one, it must be available to all”, she acknowledged. Here, the Ombudsman took into account EDRi’s proposal to conduct an automatic review of classification of documents.
Beyond access to documents, the Ombudsman asked the Commission to disclose the lobbying it receives. She asked for the Directors, Heads of Unit and negotiators to disclose details of the meetings they hold. Also, she encouraged the Commission to adopt civil society recommendations to enhance public participation.
Finally, the Ombudsman challenged the argument that “greater transparency could lead to confusion and misunderstandings among citizens.” In the words of the Ombudsman, “such arguments are profoundly misguided. The only effective way to avoid public confusion and misunderstanding is more transparency and a greater effort proactively to inform public debate.”
Citizens can resort to the Ombudsman in case they find evidence of malpractice and ask for a Freedom of Information request to have access to EU documents through AsktheEU.org.
EDRi’s response to the European Ombudsman’s Public Consultation on transparency in the TTIP negotiations (31.10.2014)
Report on the European Ombudsman’s public consultation in relation to the transparency of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations (06.01.2015)
Decision of the European Ombudsman closing her own-initiative inquiry OI/10/2014/RA concerning the European Commission (06.01.2015) http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/cases/decision.faces/en/58668/html.bookmark
(Contribution by Maryant Fernández Pérez, EDRi)