Commissioners' Expenses 2012 and 2013

Helen Darbishire made this access to documents request to Secretariat General of the European Commission

The request was refused by Secretariat General of the European Commission.

From: Helen Darbishire

Delivered

Dear Secretariat General (SG),

Under the right of access to documents in the EU treaties, as developed in Regulation 1049/2001, I am requesting documents which provide detail on the amounts paid in
i) salaries
ii) travel costs and travel expenses
iii) other expenses

to each of the EU Commissioners and to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso for the years 2012 and 2013

Yours faithfully,

Helen Darbishire

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Secretariat General of the European Commission

Thank you for your request for access to documents. Unfortunately you have not indicated your postal address that is required for registering and handling your request in line with the procedural requirements. Please send us your full postal address at your earliest convenience. Pending your reply, we reserve the right to refuse the registration of your request.
You may, of course, use directly the electronic form for entering your request:
http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/...

ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS
European Commission
Secretariat General
Unit SG.B4 – Transparency

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From: Helen Darbishire

Delivered

Dear Secretariat General (SG),

Thank you for your response. Whilst I believe that the address should not be necessary for processing this request in line with the right of access to documents set out in the EU treaties, in this case and for the purposes of registration, you may use my work address which is:
Access Info Europe
Calle Cava de San Miguel 8, 4c,
28005 MADRID
Spain

I would, however, prefer that all correspondence is addressed to the email associated with this request, and to receive documents in electronic format.

I look forward to receiving the requested documents within the 15 working day time frame.

Yours faithfully,

Helen Darbishire

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Secretariat General of the European Commission

Dear Ms Darbishire,

I hereby acknowledge the receipt of your request for access to documents registered on 08/05/2014 under the reference number GESTDEM 2014/2324.

In accordance with Regulation 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents, you will receive a response to your request within 15 working days: 03/06/2014.

If this deadline needs to be extended, you will be notified in due course.

Best regards,

Bernadett BERCZELI
Access to Documents

European Commission
Secretariat General
Unit SG.B4 – Transparency

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Secretariat General of the European Commission


Attachment 2014 06 03 ML Ms Darbishire access to documents.pdf
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Attachment Annex of PMO REPLY to GESTDEM 2014.pdf
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Dear Ms Darbishire,

Please find attached a reply to your request for access to documents.

Kind regards,

Marzena Wypychowska

Secrétaire de Marc Lemaître
Directeur du PMO
Commission Européenne
PMO
Office de gestion et de liquidation des droits individuels

SC27 04/021
B-1049 Bruxelles/Belgique
+322 295 99 93
[email address]

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From: Helen Darbishire

Delivered

Dear Secretariat General (SG),

Your Reference: GestDem 2014/2324

Dear Sir/Madam,

This is a confirmatory application to challenge the refusal to provide access to documents which provide details on the salaries and expenses reimbursements paid to each of the EU Commissioners and to the Commission President for the years 2012 and 2013.

The European Commission provided only global totals for mission (travel) and representation expenses for each of the years 2012 and 2013.

Access Info Europe challenges the refusal to provide the requested documents on the following grounds.

1. The information requested would not undermine the privacy and integrity of the individual within the meaning of Article 4 (1) (b) Regulation 1049/2001

The Commission asserts that Article 4 (1) (b) of Regulation 1049/2001 prevents it from releasing the requested documents as they “concern the personal situation of the Commissioners and of the Commission President, and [are] therefore personal data of the latter [sic] in the sense of Article 2(a) of Regulation 45/2001.”

The Commission argues that Article 4 (1) (b) “provides that access to documents be refused where disclosure would undermine the protection of privacy and integrity of the individual, in particular in accordance with the Community legislation regarding the protection of personal data.”

The Commission states that “Article 4 (1) (b) is an absolute exception which does not require the institution to balance the exception defined therein against any possible public interest in disclosure.”

To the extent that the Commission is relying on Article 4 (1) (b), it should demonstrate how the disclosure of documents which also contain the names of the Commissioners would undermine the privacy and integrity of the individual. Whilst it is true that there is no public interest test linked to Article 4 (1) (b), there is a harm test – in this sense it is not an absolute exception – but the Commission has manifestly failed to apply that harm test.

Access Info Europe contends that disclosure of information about the salaries paid to and the amounts claimed in expenses by Commissioners would not undermine their privacy and integrity as this information is directly linked to their public function.

With respect to salaries, the entitlement figures are already available and so providing information about what was actually paid out for salaries in each of 2013 and 2014 would not harm privacy or integrity. Indeed, there is likely to be an expectation on the part of these public figures that such information will be in the public domain.

Indeed, the principles of transparency and openness in the EU treaties require that the remuneration of a public official can never be considered purely private because it is paid with tax money and there is a duty of accountability towards the public.

With respect to the mission expenses, it is even less clear how disclosure of this information would undermine the privacy and integrity of the Commissioners. There is much information about the work of Commissioners and the travel they undertake that is proactively published on the European Commission websites and elsewhere. The only additional information requested are the details of how much these activities cost. This is information about public officials incurring costs in the course of their public work and using public funds. This cannot be construed either as personal data, or as information the disclosure of which would in any way undermine the privacy of the Commissioners.

Hence Article 4 (1) (b) does not apply to the majority of the documents falling under the scope of the request as the privacy of Commissioners is not actually or specifically undermined. The Commission in any event fails to demonstrate that this would be the case and to verify that the risk of the protected interest being undermined was reasonably foreseeable and not purely hypothetical.

Access Info argues that the Commission should therefore review its refusal and provide access to relevant documents which satisfy the request.

2. The Commission refused to provide partial access to the documents concerned but failed to justify why partial access could not be provided.

The Commission states that “The remaining parts of the documents cannot be disclosed for the same reasons as those set out above” and substitutes the totals table “as a partial access to the documents you requested.”

The Commission makes no specific effort to explain why if total numbers can be provided, a more detailed breakdown of the costs cannot be provided.

Indeed, the Commission fails to establish how the “same reasons” (those of personal data protection and harm to privacy) could possibly apply to all the data contained in the requested documents since so much of it would be numerical data about spending according to various budget lines, which, if disassociated from the names of the specific Commissioners, does not construe personal data and would not undermine the privacy of the Commissioners.

Given the Commission’s apparent willingness to provide some data albeit delinked from the identities of the Commissioners, it would in any event have been possible to provide an account of the total spent on salaries in answer to part (a) of the request.

It would also be possible to provide detailed accounting documents on travel and other expenses (missions and representation) in response to part (b) without identifying who incurred the expenses.
Such access to original documents with any exempted data redacted is required by Regulation 1049/2001 Article 4.6. By not providing redacted documents and by failing to justify sufficiently why this is not done, the Commission has not fulfilled its obligations under Regulation 1049/2001 Article 4.6.

3. The request for information satisfies the criteria of Article 8 (1) (b) Regulation 45/2001

The Commission also invokes Regulation 45/2001 on the Protection of Personal Data. According to Article 1(1) of Regulation No 45/2001, the purpose of that regulation is to “protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons, and in particular their right to privacy with respect to the processing of personal data”.

Article 8 (b) of Regulation 45/2001 requires two tests to be met for personal data to be transferred, namely that the recipient should establish the necessity of having the data transferred and that there is no reason to assume that the data subject’s legitimate interests might be prejudiced.

3.1 No reason to assume that the data subject’s legitimate interests might be prejudiced or that privacy is at stake

The Commission states with respect to salary data that “it cannot be assumed that the disclosure of the personal data would not prejudice the legitimate rights of the Commissioners concerned”, and with respect to the costs of missions that the request “relates to documents referring to the personal situation of the Commissioners and of the Commission President and therefore again to personal data.”

Access Info takes the view that the European Commission has erred in law and fact in making this statement given that (a) the names of the Commissioners are already fully public and that (b) broad information on the salaries they receive is also in the public domain. To provide additional details on precisely how much each Commissioner receives would not impinge any further on any privacy rights or negatively affect or prejudice the Commissioners in any way.

Access Info Europe notes that when it comes to the requested information about salaries, the Commission has identified salary slips as containing this information. That may be the case, but there are undoubtedly other documents held by the Commission which also fall within the scope of the request, including most likely; management documents, budgets, reports, accounting documents, excel sheets, etc. These other documents will include the names of each Commissioner and the salary amounts but not other personal data typically contained in salary slips such as bank account or social security details. In any case, it should be possible to provide either salary slips or other documentation which contains the amounts paid, with any personal data which would undermine privacy or prejudice the legitimate rights of the Commissioners redacted. Such partial access is required by Article 4.6 of Regulation 1049/2001. From the arguments set out in its response, it appears that no effort has been made by the Commission to apply this provision and no explanation or justification has been provided as to why partial access to relevant documents cannot be granted.

When it comes to the travel costs and other expenses, for which the Commission has identified documents relating to mission and representation costs, it is even less clear how the Commission has construed that this information relates to the “personal situation” of the Commissioners. The reimbursement of expenses for missions etc., can never be considered to relate to a Commissioner’s personal financial situation since they are merely compensation for expenses made while on public service, for trips and events many of which are in the public domain, and hence cannot be considered revealing something about the personal financial situation of the Commissioner.

Access Info Europe submits that there is no reason whatsoever to assume that the legitimate interests of the Commissioners would be prejudiced by publication of this information.

3.2 The necessity of having the data transferred

The other part of the test in Article 8 of Regulation 45/2001 is the necessity of having the data transferred.

The Commission states that Access Info Europe has not “put forward any arguments to substantiate a need to obtain these personal data”.

As a starting point, it must be noted that the right of access to documents is contained in the Treaties of the European Union, in particular in Article 15 TFEU which requires that “Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible” and that “Any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State, shall have a right of access to documents of the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, whatever their medium, subject to the principles and the conditions to be defined in accordance with this paragraph.”

Hence 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, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/page.... 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. At the time we submitted our requests, Europe was just entering the European elections with discussions about the role of the current Commissioners and the candidates for future Commission President. There was – and still is -- 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 much each Commissioner spends, whether some are more profligate than others, and details on how the funds are used, are 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. Once we receive the information we will disseminate it to media and civil society, as fulfilment of our role in advancing transparency and facilitating public accountability, and allow ourselves and the media to carry out the watchdog and civil society function for which Access Info Europe was created and which is the purpose of the organisation.

Access Info Europe is involved in many projects related to transparency of the European Union, which include monitoring of the activities of the Commissioners. We and other civil society organisations with which we cooperate regularly request information about Commissioners and their activities. These include investigations into, for instance, the influence of lobbying as well as monitoring possible corruption. Having accurate and detailed information of the expenses per Commissioner enables us and our civil society partners to carry out our watchdog function.

We note that Access Info Europe recently conducted a review of the gifts register of the Commission – there, the information on gifts received over a value of € 150 is available and it is broken down by Commissioners (who are specifically named). This clearly confirms that this type of information is linked solely to the public function of the Commissioners; Access Info contends that mission and representation expenses should therefore be made public in the same way.

Access Info Europe is also providing support to journalistic investigations into the amounts spent per Commissioner, which is part of a legitimate enquiry by us and the media as public watchdogs in order to identify the amounts spent, and hence to be able to review and verify whether there are any discrepancies or significant variations, for example in the type or nature of the expenses or the amounts incurred per Commissioner. For this reason also it is necessary to have the amount per Commissioner. There is no other way to receive this information and also no alternative, as it is precisely the individualised information which sheds light on differences in approach, expenditure and priorities set by Commissioners in their public function. This is also the only way by which debate can be generated on the need for certain expenses and hence a better understanding of and public support for certain types of expenditure can be reached.

In conclusion, 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
Executive Director
Access Info Europe

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Secretariat General of the European Commission

Dear Madam,

Thank you for your email dated 26/06/2014.

We hereby acknowledge receipt of your confirmatory application for access to documents, which was registered on 27/06/2014 under reference number GestDem 2014/2324 – Ares(2014) 2131034.

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 18/07/2014. In case this time limit needs to be extended, you will be informed in due course.

Yours faithfully,

Carlos Remis
SG.B.4
Transparence.
Berl. 05/329.

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Secretariat General of the European Commission


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Dear Ms Darbishire,

Kindly find herewith a copy of the letter, sent to you on 18.07.2014,
concerning your confirmatory application for access to documents (gestdem
2014/2324).

 

Yours sincerely,

Carlos Remis
SG.B.4
Transparence.
Berl. 05/329.

[1]cid:[email address]

 

From: Helen Darbishire [mailto:[email address]]
Sent: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 2:19 PM
To: SG ACCES DOCUMENTS
Cc: 'Andreas Pavlou'
Subject: FW: Confirmatory application for access to documents pursuant to
Regulation 1049-2001 - GESTDEM 2014/2324

 

Dear Carlos

 

Thank you for this. Could you kindly send it to AsktheEU.org as well.

 

Best regards

 

Helen

 

----------------------------------------------

Helen Darbishire

Executive Director

Access Info Europe

[2]www.access-info.org

Twitter: @helen_access, @access_info

Mobile: +34 667 685 319

 

From: [email address] [mailto:[email address]]
Sent: 18 July 2014 18:21
To: [email address]
Subject: Confirmatory application for access to documents pursuant to
Regulation 1049-2001 - GESTDEM 2014/2324

 

 

Dear Ms Darbishire,

Kindly find herewith a letter concerning your confirmatory application for
access to documents (gestdem 2014/2324).

Yours sincerely,

Carlos Remis
SG.B.4
Transparence.
Berl. 05/329.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From: Helen Darbishire


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Response to Confirmatory Application received by email on 5 August 2014
but not posted by European Commission to AsktheEU.org.

 

From: [email address] [mailto:[email address]]
Sent: 05 August 2014 15:21
To: [email address]
Subject: Your confirmatory application for access to documents under
Regulation (EC) N° 1049/2001 - GESTDEM 2014/2324

 

Dear Ms Darbishire,

 

Please find attached a preliminary copy of the answer to your confirmatory
application concerning your request for access to documents pursuant to
Regulation (EC) N° 1049/2001 regarding public access to European
Parliament, Council and Commission documents, GESTDEM 2014/2324.

 

The original note will be sent to you by registered post; annexes only
sent by email.

 

Best regards,

 

 

Bernadett BERCZELI

Access to Documents
[1]ec logo
European Commission
Secretariat General
Unit SG.B4 – Transparency

 

 

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Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Secretariat General of the European Commission only: