Informationen und Dokumente aus den europäischen Institutionen zu erbitten kann so manchem graue Haare bereiten. Vor drei Jahren startete die Organisation Access Info Europe daher die Plattform AsktheEU.org, die den Zugang zu Dokumenten erleichtern und die EU ein wenig transparenter machen wollte. Mit ein paar Klicks kann die entsprechende Institution ausgewählt und die Anfrage abgeschickt werden. Dies funktionierte auch ganz gut – bis jetzt zumindest.
In einem Blogpost kritisiert Access Info Europe nun, dass sich die Europäische Kommission weigert, Anfragen zu beantworten, in denen die Postanschrift des Antragsstellers fehlt. Da das Portal alle Anfragen und Antworten in Echtzeit veröffentlicht, würden angegebene Postanschriften ebenfalls publik.
Ich selbst habe „Ask the EU“ nun schon des öfteren genutzt. Mein erster Antrag über diese Plattform betraf die von der EU-Kommission und den USA aufgesetzte Expertengruppe zu Prism, welcher ziemlich problemlos beantwortet wurde. Für meine letzte Anfrage im November 2013 wollte die EU-Kommission schon mehr über mich wissen. Ich musste meinen Namen, „Geschäftsbereich“ und Land angeben. Jetzt scheint die Kommission einen neuen Weg gefunden zu haben, den Zugang zu Dokumenten zu erschweren – obwohl im Gesetzestext (Verordnung 1049/2001, pdf) kein einziges Wort darüber zu finden ist, dass eine Postanschrift angegeben werden muss.
In einem internen Memo (pdf) erklärt die Kommission jedoch, dass sie gegen Antragsteller vorgehen möchten, die sich hinter falschen Identitäten verstecken. Die Kommission erklärt weiterhin, dass sie ihre knappen Ressourcen eher den „ehrlichen und seriösen“ Antragstellern widmen will.
Helen Darbishire von Access Info Europe hat uns einige Fragen zu dem Fall beantwortet:
NP: Did you try to contact the Commission and to discuss the matter?
Helen: We did have discussions with Martin Kröger, head of the European Commission Secretariat General Transparency Unit, at a meeting in Brussels on 10 April. He presented some of his concerns to us at that meeting although we were not informed that a memo had been circulated on 1 April.
In response to one of the request, one of our colleagues then tried to submit an appeal (confirmatory application) but they refused to register the request and hence stated that no appeal could be made because an appeal is only after a request has been registered. Our colleague is now preparing an appeal to the European Ombudsman.
NP: Why is the Commission recommending the policy to request the postal address in a memo?
Helen: Well it’s not entirely clear to us. The consequence of making it harder to present requests via AsktheEU.org is that it is harder to make the process of transparency more transparent and it makes it harder for us to monitor levels of compliance.
I think one concern might be former employees, and some other rather persistent persons who are filing multiple requests and there is a suspicion that they are not using real names. This could be the case, I simply don’t know, and it’s not something we control for. At the same time for practical purposes, this should not really matter, because either a document can be made public or not, and it should not really matter who asks for it.
Indeed, the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents recommends to Member States to permit anonymous requests. But even in a system which does not permit anonymous requests, we believe that the exact identity of the requester is less important than providing an answer. In the same way, the EU access to documents rules make clear that no one can be asked for the reasons for their request.
There may be a concern about allowing people to appeal to the European Court of Justice, but I am not convinced that this is the real reason. In the past, many Court appeals have been launched after an initial email exchange.
NP: What about the Commission’s concern about requests coming from third countries?
The Commission also states that it wants to control requests coming from outside the EU. This is strictly allowed as it’s a right for EU citizens and residents, but seems like a silly idea given that requesters from outside can ask friends inside the EU to ask for them, and also it’s just not really good public relations!
NP: What is the Commission’s general response to your platform? Are they appreciating your help to create more transparency?
Helen: Interestingly, in March the Commission threatened to sue Access Info Europe for defamatory material on AsktheEU.org. We have had discussions with them and have asked for more details, but have not yet been informed which information is defamatory, nor which jurisdictions we will be sued in. It’s all rather bizarre, but makes me feel that the EC is not entirely comfortable with AsktheEU.org.
Another thing that has happened is that we have been asked to take down some „out of office“ replies as personal data. We have refused to date because these are official responses from EU officials. In our meeting with Mr. Kröger, he expressed a concern that the Commission didn’t particularly like the back and forth with EU officials being on line on AsktheEU.org. We disagree and believe it’s very informative to see how the system works.
At Access Info Europe, we strongly believe that the names of officials responsible for transparency should be public and we should be able to see, for example, if they are out of the office on holiday, as this impacts on timeframes for responding.
Similarly, any clarification requests, any discussions, all of that is part of the access to documents process and should be made public so that we all understand better how the system works and how to improve it.
NP: Did you obtain a copy of that memo in the meantime (for ex. by filing an access request)?
Helen: We received this memo on 3 June 2014 via a request on AsktheEU.org. I note that I had to give my postal address to get it.