Commissioner Malmstrom's travel costs for videoconference

Response to this request is long overdue. By law, under all circumstances, Secretariat General of the European Commission should have responded by now (details). You can complain by requesting an internal review.

Dear Secretariat General,

Under the right of access to documents in the EU treaties, as developed in Regulation 1049/2001, I am hereby requesting access to documents detailing the travel costs incurred by Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in her mission to Brussels on 4 April 2018. I request the information provided detail the mode(s) of transport used by the commissioner, and any other expenses to which the €775.14 listed as travel costs has been attributed.

I remain at your disposition to answer any questions or clarifications you might have related to this request.

Yours faithfully,

Jacob Finlay
Access Info Europe
Calle Cava de San Miguel 8, 4c
28005 Madrid
Spain

Secretariat General of the European Commission

Your message has been received by the Transparency Unit of the
Secretariat-General of the European Commission.
Requests for public access to documents are treated on the basis of
[1]Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to
European Parliament, Council and Commission documents.
The Secretariat-General will reply to your request within 15 working days
upon registration of your request and will duly inform you of the
registration of the request (or of any additional information to be
provided in view of its registration and/or treatment).
 
 
L’unité «Transparence» du secrétariat général de la Commission européenne
a bien reçu votre message.
Les demandes d’accès du public aux documents sont traitées sur la base du
[2]règlement (CE) n° 1049/2001 du 30 mai 2001 relatif à l’accès du public
aux documents du Parlement européen, du Conseil et de la Commission.
Le secrétariat général répondra à votre demande dans un délai de 15 jours
ouvrables à compter de la date d’enregistrement de votre demande, et vous
informera de cet enregistrement (ou vous indiquera toute information
supplémentaire à fournir en vue de l'enregistrement et/ou du traitement de
votre demande).
 
 
Ihre Nachricht ist beim Referat „Transparenz“ des Generalsekretariats der
Europäischen Kommission eingegangen.
Anträge auf Zugang zu Dokumenten werden auf der Grundlage der
[3]Verordnung (EG) Nr. 1049/2001 vom 30. Mai 2001 über den Zugang der
Öffentlichkeit zu Dokumenten des Europäischen Parlaments, des Rates und
der Kommission behandelt.
Das Generalsekretariat beantwortet Ihre Anfrage innerhalb von
15 Arbeitstagen nach deren Registrierung und wird Sie über die
Registrierung Ihres Antrags (oder die Notwendigkeit weiterer Informationen
im Hinblick auf dessen Registrierung und/oder Bearbeitung) unterrichten.
 
 

References

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2. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/...
3. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/...

ve_sg.accessdoc (SG), Secretariat General of the European Commission

1 Attachment

Link: [1]File-List
Link: [2]Edit-Time-Data
Link: [3]themeData
Link: [4]colorSchemeMapping

[5]Ares(2019)3110007 - Gestdem 2019/2754 - RE: access to documents request
- Commissioner Malmstrom's travel costs for videoconference

Sent by ve_sg.accessdoc (SG) <[DG SG request email]>. All responses have
to be sent to this email address.
Envoyé par ve_sg.accessdoc (SG) <[DG SG request email]>. Toutes les
réponses doivent être effectuées à cette adresse électronique.

Dear Sir,

 

Thank you for your e-mail dated 10/05/2019. We hereby acknowledge receipt
of your application for access to documents, which was registered on
10/05/2019 under reference number GestDem 2019/2754.

 

In accordance with Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 regarding public access to
European Parliament, Council and Commission documents, your application
will be handled within 15 working days.

 

The time limit will expire on 04/06/2019. In case this time limit needs to
be extended, you will be informed in due course.

 

You have lodged your application via the AsktheEU.org website. Please note
that this is a private third-party website which has no link with any
institution of the European Union. Therefore, the European Commission
cannot be held accountable for any technical issues or problems linked to
the use of this system.

 

Please note that the private third party running the AsktheEU.org website
is responsible and accountable for the processing of your personal data
via that website, and not the European Commission. For further information
on your rights, please refer to the third party’s privacy policy.

 

We understand that the third party running that website usually publishes
the content of applicants’ correspondence with the European Commission on
that website. This includes the personal data that you may have
communicated to the European Commission (e.g. your private postal
address).

 

Similarly, the third party publishes on that website any reply that the
Commission will send to the email address of the applicants generated by
the AsktheEU.org website.

 

If you do not wish your correspondence with the European Commission to be
published on the AsktheEU.org website, you can provide us with an
alternative, private e-mail address for further correspondence.

 

In that case, the European Commission will send all future electronic
correspondence addressed to you only to that private address.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

 

ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS TEAM (GD)

 

[6]cid:image001.png@01D45409.F767C980

European Commission

Secretariat-General

SG C.1

[7][email address]

 

 

show quoted sections

SCHIAVONI Antonella(PMO), Secretariat General of the European Commission

1 Attachment

Please find attached document Ares(2019)3602328 from SCOGNAMIGLIO Giuseppe (PMO) dated 04/06/2019.

Veuillez trouver ci-joint le document Ares(2019)3602328 de SCOGNAMIGLIO Giuseppe (PMO) daté du 04/06/2019.

Dear Secretary-General of the European Commission,

This is a confirmatory application sent by Access Info Europe following your response to Jacob Finlay. The Confirmatory application is submitted as set out in Article 7(2) of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, to challenge the refusal to provide access to documents with details on the mission expenses of Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, with reference GESTDEM 2019/2754.

In your response you correctly summarise that I ask for documents that “contain information on the travel costs incurred by Commissioner Cecilia Malmström in her mission to Brussels on 4 April 2018.” And, more specifically, “documents which would detail the mode(s) of transport used by the commissioner, and any other expenses to which the €775.14 listed as travel costs has been attributed.”

Access Info asks the Commission to reconsider its position on the following grounds.

1. Code of Conduct establishes the principle of transparency: In its response the Commission refers to the Code of Conduct for the Members of the European Commission and the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour implies a redundancy to ask for further details on the expenses of EU Commissioners.

Access Info has previously welcomed the Code of Conduct and the proactive publication of mission costs that it mandates, out of recognition of the benefits of transparency. The Code of Conduct states that mission costs will be published unless a series of public interest reasons come into play; these reasons include public security, defence, international relations, and other exceptions to be found in Article 4.1.a) of Regulation 1049/2001.

Interestingly, the Code of Conduct does not make reference to Article 4.1.b) of the same regulation, which protects the privacy and the integrity of the individual. It might be assumed that this is because the proactive publication of the travel expenses of Europe’s top officials was not considered to be something particularly problematic in terms of data protection.

Indeed, the Code itself establishes the public interest in making public information that is linked to very limited and specific items of personal data, namely the names of the Commissioners who travelled on public business and at the taxpayers’ expense. Quite rightly, the Code does not require the publication of other personal data that might well cause damage to the Commissioners, such, to imagine an example, the numbers of their bank accounts into which any reimbursements might be paid.

It is also important to note that, at least since the adoption of the Code of Conduct, all the Commissioners are informed in advance of the fact that mission expenses associated with their names will be made public.

As an additional point, we note that in your response you note that the Code of Conduct permits mission expenses to be claimed when Commissioners travel, and that: “A mission is defined as travel in the exercise of his or her duties by a Member away from the Commission's place of work.” We kindly ask that you clarify whether Brussels is on the list of permitted travel destinations.

2. The Commission failed to identify the documents that fall under the scope of this request: We note that in your response, the Commission did not specifically identify which documents it holds that it has determined to fall under the scope of this request. This means that in preparing this confirmatory application, we are somewhat in the dark as to how to structure some of the arguments. For example, we do not know if some of the information is held in databases from which it could be extracted, or whether it comes in the form of a travel claim, invoices, memos, emails or other material which would provide clarity as to on what the funds were spent. We ask you to provide more details in your response to this confirmatory.

3. Regulation 1049/2001 applies: Whilst the Code of Conduct requires certain proactive publication, it in no way establishes a specific regime for access to documents, and with respect to this request, it is Regulation 1049/2001 that must be considered. The Code of Conduct can neither limit nor be the basis for deciding on whether or not further information be released to the public. [The General Court has ruled that the “proactive scheme of publishing a minimum amount of information does not therefore constitute a specific regulatory scheme on access to documents which should be interpreted as meaning that all data and information not contained in the … documents is presumed to be confidential.” (MSD Animal Health Innovation GmbH and Intervet international BV v European Medicines Agency, paragraph 35).]

Regulation 1049/2001 is the instrument that sets out the mechanisms for implementing the right of access to documents as protected in Article 15 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union and in Article 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. These require that “Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible.”

4. The requested documents do not relate in their entirety to privacy or personal data. The Commission asserts that the “documents falling under the scope of your request contain information concerning identified natural persons, namely Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and they reveal in a detailed manner how, where and when the Commissioner spent these amounts. Therefore, they undoubtedly consist of information that qualifies as personal data.”

It is already known, from the proactively published travel expenses, that Cecilia Malmström was associated with the spending of certain amounts of money. What has been requested here is additional details about the nature of the spending. Details of how public funds are spent on public business are not private data per se. That it was a particular Commissioner who spent the funds is already private, and hence to provide details such as that the spending was on, for example, taxi costs, would not have any impact at all on privacy or personal data as the name of the person is already in the public domain. Moreover, it is entirely possible for the Commission to respond to the request without providing any further personal data, not even the Commissioner’s name: this would be achieved by redacting the name of the person (and any other personal data) from the requested documents.

Such partial access is mandate by Regulation 1049/2001 for any information that does not fall under one of the exceptions. Given that the Commission has not invoked any other exception, it should be possible to provide the documents that account for how the funds were spent (with any names, and other data such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc., appropriately redacted). We urge you to reconsider your decision and to supply us with the documents that contain details of how the funds were spent, with any personal data redacted as appropriate.

5. The Commission has failed to properly apply Regulation No. 2018/1725. Following its conclusion that all the requested documents fall under the scope of Article 4.1.b) of Regulation 1049/2001, the Commission the conducts an analysis using Regulation (EU) 2018/1725 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2018 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data by the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies and on the free movement of such data.
Even conceding that it is correct to conclude that Article 4.1.b) applies to the entirety of the requested documents (which we contest), we believe that the Commission has erred in its interpretation of Regulation No. 2018/1725.

In the first instance we note that the fact that the Commissioners will be aware of the Code of Conduct and the proactive publication of the travel expenses, means that they will have a high expectation that their personal data (meaning in this case only their names, no more) will be made public associated with the spending per trip undertaken on public business and using public funds. Indeed, in this sense the Code of Conduct establishes a legal basis for the publishing of the data, deriving as it does from the principles of transparency set out in the treaties of the European Union, and confirmed repeatedly in the case law of the Court.

From this it can be assumed that the Commissioners have been informed of the processing of their personal data, which will be for purposes of account keeping and auditing, and also for purposes of transparency and accountability to the European public. Such processing of this data would then be in line with Article 5 of Regulation 2018/1725, given that a request for access to documents from any citizen is in and of itself an affirmation of the purpose of the processing, which is to ensure transparency; no further arguments should be needed by the requester. (We would argue that Article 6 also applies given that the purpose of transparency is an end compatible with that for which the data were collected).

Without prejudice to our assertion that the fact that data about the spending of public funds by Europe’s highest level public carrying out public activities about which much related information has been made public, Access Info has set out in Point 5 below our arguments as to the public interest in providing these documents.
Now, once the public interest has been established, the Commission is obliged to apply the balancing test ensuring that the principle of proportionality is taken into account, to determine whether release of the data would indeed prejudice legitimate interest. There is nothing in the decision notice to demonstrate that the Commission did indeed carry out such a balancing.

Nor is there any evidence in your decision that you have examined in detail the nature or scale of the harm that would be caused to the person whose privacy personal data you are assert that you are protecting (Commissioner Malmström in this case). The Court of Justice has ruled that the assessment of harm to a protected interest should be done so as to demonstrate how the protected interest would be actually and specifically undermined by release of the documents.

6. There is a public interest in providing this information: First, by stating clearly in our request that it was made in exercise of “the right of access to documents in the EU treaties, as developed in Regulation 1049/2001,” Access Info explicitly established a legitimate public interest in obtaining the information and had indicated to the Commission the legal grounds for providing the documents out of “compliance with a legal obligation to which the controller is subject” (Article 5).

The principles of good governance and participation set out in Article 15 TFEU as developed through the case law of the European Court of Justice as well as decisions of the European Ombudsman clearly point to the principle of maximum possible transparency in the spending of public funds. This includes transparency around the use of public funds, which is what this request is about. Hence these provisions establish a prima facie necessity to process and transfer this data.

Access Info Europe is a human rights organisation whose mission is to promote transparency, in particular to permit public participation, and to promote accountability and to support the fight against corruption. We provide support to those interested in obtaining information, including civil society, journalists, and members of the public. Our mission is to use access to information and access to documents rules to secure access to information which we believe should be public, consistent with the international human rights standards on the right of access to information which permit only limited exceptions.

As a civil society organisation, Access Info Europe plays a watchdog role akin to that of journalists in line with the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence on access to information (see, for example, the case of Társaság a Szabadságjogokért v. Hungary, App. No. 37374/05, ECHR, 14 April 2009). We therefore have a legitimate interest in obtaining information about the use of public funds, and this request forms part of that line of enquiry.

Access Info Europe both requests information itself and assists others in obtaining information. When Access Info Europe makes requests such as this one via the AsktheEU.org website the data becomes available to all members of the European (and indeed the global) public for them to exercise their rights to participation, to engage in public debate, to hold public bodies accountable.

Such transparency is essential in the current political context, where there is rising Euroscepticism and with it an ongoing debate about the role and functions of Commissioners, as well as more broadly about the salaries and expenses payments made by European taxpayers to public officials in Brussels. Basic information such as how the Commissioners spend funds, with details on how the funds are used, is essential to have an informed and accurate debate about the way in which Brussels functions.

Access Info Europe aims with this request to contribute directly and specifically to that public debate, sharing, as we have done in the past, such information in order to broaden and deepen understanding of the use of public funds in Brussels, and hence to provide greater legitimacy to the work of the European Commission.

As noted above, we very much welcome the proactive publication of mission expenses by the Commission, as a result of our campaigning, as we strongly believe that of such transparency can ensure a fact-based debate about the European Union, permitting misinformation to be countered.

This is why Access Info Europe calls on the Commission thoroughly to review the refusal to provide the requested documents, full and adequately taking the above arguments and reasoning into account.

Yours faithfully

Helen Darbishire
Vice President / Executive Director
Access Info Europe

Dear Secretariat General of the European Commission,

I am writing to enquire as to the status of my confirmatory application, send on 25 June 2019, with respect to your refusal to grant access to documents requested in GESTDEM 2019/2754.
You can find the link to the confirmatory here: https://www.asktheeu.org/en/request/comm...
Given that the 15 working day time frame has now elapsed, I would be grateful for an update on the handling of my confirmatory.

Yours faithfully,

Helen Darbishire pp Jacob Finlay
Access Info Europe

Secretariat General of the European Commission

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Finlay,
 
Could you please inform us of the email address you have sent your
confirmatory application?
 
It seems that it has not been delivered to [1][DG SG request email]
 
Best regards,
 
ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS TEAM
 
European Commission
Secretariat-General
Unit C1 – Transparency, Document Management & Access to Documents
 
[2]HOW WE PROCESS PERSONAL DATA
 
 

show quoted sections

Dear Access to Documents Team

Yes, certainly. The request was sent to : [email address] as this was the address from which the decision in response to my initial request was received, even though I had submitted the request with yourselves at the Secretariat General Access to Documents mail.

Thanks in advance for sorting this out.

Yours faithfully,
Jacob Finlay
Access Info

Secretariat General of the European Commission

Your message has been received by the Transparency Unit of the
Secretariat-General of the European Commission.
Requests for public access to documents are treated on the basis of
[1]Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to
European Parliament, Council and Commission documents.
The Secretariat-General will reply to your request within 15 working days
upon registration of your request and will duly inform you of the
registration of the request (or of any additional information to be
provided in view of its registration and/or treatment).
 
 
L’unité «Transparence» du secrétariat général de la Commission européenne
a bien reçu votre message.
Les demandes d’accès du public aux documents sont traitées sur la base du
[2]règlement (CE) n° 1049/2001 du 30 mai 2001 relatif à l’accès du public
aux documents du Parlement européen, du Conseil et de la Commission.
Le secrétariat général répondra à votre demande dans un délai de 15 jours
ouvrables à compter de la date d’enregistrement de votre demande, et vous
informera de cet enregistrement (ou vous indiquera toute information
supplémentaire à fournir en vue de l'enregistrement et/ou du traitement de
votre demande).
 
 
Ihre Nachricht ist beim Referat „Transparenz“ des Generalsekretariats der
Europäischen Kommission eingegangen.
Anträge auf Zugang zu Dokumenten werden auf der Grundlage der
[3]Verordnung (EG) Nr. 1049/2001 vom 30. Mai 2001 über den Zugang der
Öffentlichkeit zu Dokumenten des Europäischen Parlaments, des Rates und
der Kommission behandelt.
Das Generalsekretariat beantwortet Ihre Anfrage innerhalb von
15 Arbeitstagen nach deren Registrierung und wird Sie über die
Registrierung Ihres Antrags (oder die Notwendigkeit weiterer Informationen
im Hinblick auf dessen Registrierung und/oder Bearbeitung) unterrichten.
 
 

References

Visible links
1. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/...
2. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/...
3. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/...