A new fast-track procedure to deal with access to documents complaints has been introduced by European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly.
Under the new system, the Ombudsman will be able to take a decision within two months of receiving the complaint.
“Citizens need to try access documents while they are still relevant. Information delayed is information denied,” said O’Reilly. “While ensuring compliance with the EU’s law on public access, I will also continue to push for the adoption of a proactive approach to the timely publication of information in the public interest.”
The Ombudsman no longer sees any value in taking the normal intermediary step of asking the institution for its views at the start of an investigation, a practice which has led to long delays in decision-making.
Around 10% of Ombudsman inquiries concern refusals or delays by EU institutions in releasing documents requested under the EU’s transparency regulation.
The office has dealt with 19 fast-track complaints since 1 September 2017 in a trial phase. To date all decisions have been made within two months.
“The new procedure does not mean that more documents will be released but at least people will have the opportunity to try to access them while they’re still relevant or to have quick confirmation that the institution has validly withheld them,” said O’Reilly.
The Ombudsman aims to take a decision within 40 working days of receiving the complaint, although some complex cases might take longer.
If the Ombudsman finds the EU institution or body was wrong to refuse access to the document she may recommend that it grant either full or partial access to the documents in question.