Travel expenses for Commissioner Günther Oettinger

Arne Semsrott made this access to documents request to Secretariat General of the European Commission

The request was partially successful.

From: Arne Semsrott

Delivered

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 the travel expenses of Digital Economy and Society Commissioner Günther Oettinger, for the period 15 March 2015 to 15 May 2015 inclusive, as contained in the relevant mission summary fiches.

I request that the information provided in (i.e.: not redacted from) the mission summary fiches be:

a) Information of the nature already released in response to request Gestdem 2015/5430, namely details on both expenditure report and expense statement, including daily allowances, accommodation, misc. costs, meals deductions, holiday deductions, increased amount on exchange rate, amount for mission performer, advance paid, balance due and (again) total mission cost. In addition, for third party expenses, for both expenditure report and expense statement, the travel agency costs, other costs, and the total for third parties.

b) The following fields from the Mission Summary section of the fiche: Purpose, Name, Date from, [date] to, and Place.

This information would be in addition to that previously provided namely the fields Costs (total mission cost), Travel Agency Check ID, Reference, Mission Type, and Budget reference code.

With respect to the information requested in point (b) above, please take into consideration the following when evaluating the request.

i) In order to ascertain how funds were spent and hence to ensure that the European Commission is both transparent and accountable with respect to the spending by public officials of public funds while on public business, it is absolutely essential that details of what the money was spent on be made public.

It is impossible for a member of the public to evaluate whether funds are being spent appropriately on travel, accommodation, meals, and other related costs, without knowing from where and to where someone travelled and for what length of time. (For example, if the travel costs element of a mission amounts to €6000 and it is a business trip to China then this could be reasonable, whereas if it’s a trip to Rome or Istanbul, it’s hard to imagine how travel could cost this much unless part of the journey is taken on the Orient Express.)

To exclude details on to where and for what time period missions were undertaken deprives the European public of essential information necessary to scrutinise the spending of public funds.

ii) With respect to personal information contained in the mission summary fiches, it should first be stressed that the only information being sought here is the name and surname of the Commissioner, something which is clearly already in the public domain. This request does not seek access to any other personal information such as the bank account details of the Commissioner (I note that in the documents obtained under Gestem 2015/5430, it is not apparent that bank account data is included in the fiches, unless it was included in some forms in the PMO comment fields. But be that as it may, this request is not seeking that information). Nor am I requesting data such as the office addresses, signatures or telephone numbers of Commission Staff members.

iii) With respect to the name of the Commissioner this information is absolutely necessary in order to be able to evaluate the way in which public funds are being spent by public officials on public business. The European Commissioners should be standard bearers for the highest standards of probity and this can only be ascertained by having details about the way in which, and on what, they are spending public funds.

Indeed, in times of economic crisis across much of Europe, it is important that evidence be provided that individual commissioners are not acting with undue profligacy, something that is essential in terms of accountability but also, more broadly, in shoring up or even in increasing the wilting levels of public trust in the European institutions.

The right of access to documents as established in the EU treaties has at its heart the goal “to promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society”. High levels of transparency on spending are necessary to achieve that goal. Hence, while generally there is an onus on the requester to demonstrate the necessity of transferring data that falls under the scope of Regulation 45/2001, there should be a general presumption of the necessity of transferring data that is essential to ensuring accountability by the public of the spending of public funds.

With respect to the necessity of having the information above transferred to me in my role as Project Lead at the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, we as an organisation are working on a number of projects relating to transparency of public activity, including spending of public funds. In this context and in the context of our work on transparency of lobbying, we have a particular interest in spending by senior public officials and elected representatives. We are conducting research in this area across Europe, and are also working with journalists interested in obtaining such information at the EU and national level.

iv) In addition to the necessity (as set out in point iii) of transferring data which would provide me with the name of the Commissioner to whom the documents that are the subject of this request relate, there is also no reason to assume that the data subject’s legitimate interests – in particular their privacy and integrity - might be prejudiced.

In the first instance this is because we are talking about senior (top level) public figures about whom much is already known. The travel and meetings of these persons is subject to huge proactive transparency, including through the highly laudable Commission initiative to publish the meetings of each Commissioner, as well as through other documents such as press releases, social media activity (twitter in particular), dissemination of photographs, reports, supporting documents, and so forth. At their destinations, Commissioners meet with a wide range of persons and there is often media coverage (including sometimes press conferences) related to each trip. Hence there is absolutely nothing inherently private about the trips taken by the Commissioners, not where they go, nor when, nor where they stay, nor (in many cases) where they eat or are otherwise provided with refreshments and entertained. In other words, there is no specific and adverse effect that will arise from the publication of this data.

It also cannot be concluded that the publication of the amounts spent on the travel, accommodation, and related mission costs, when associated with the names of the Commissioners, would in some way prejudice their legitimate interests in a specific and adverse manner. In the first instance this is simply because we are talking about the spending of public funds and such information, even when associated with the name of an individual Commissioner, does not reveal anything relating to the private lives of the Commissioners.

Second, even if it were in some way to be concluded that this information might result in some kind of comments about or even criticism of the Commissioners, it should also be taken into consideration that that non-publication of such information could be even more damaging. This situation is analogous to that which arose in the ClientEarth case where the Court concluded that publication of the requested information was likely to be less damaging than non-publication because “[o]n the contrary, such disclosure would, by itself, have made it possible for the suspicions of partiality in question to be dispelled or would have provided to experts who might be concerned with the opportunity to dispute, if necessary by available legal remedies, the merits of those allegations of partiality.” [1]

In a similar vein, while the continuing non-publication of data about the expenses of each Commissioner is likely to result in a climate of suspicion and mistrust in which possibly false allegations could be made, the publication of the information could dispel such rumours and hence contribute to protecting the integrity of the persons concerned.

Hence the two cumulative conditions set out in Regulation 45/2001 are satisfied and provision of the requested information would constitute lawful processing of personal data.

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

Yours faithfully,

Arne Semsrott
c/o Open Knowledge Foundation Germany
Singerstrasse 109
10179 Berlin
Germany

[1] Judgement of the Court of Justice of 16 July 2015 in case C-615/13P, ClientEarth v EFSA, (ECLI:EU:C:2015:489), paragraph 69

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Secretariat General of the European Commission


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Dear Mr Semsrott,

 

Thank you for your e-mail dated 25/10/2016.  We hereby acknowledge receipt
of your application for access to documents, which was registered on
26/10/2016 under GESTDEM 2016/6010 reference.

 

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
18/11/2016. 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 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.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

 

Access to Document Team (L.N)

European Commission

Secrétariat Général

SG.B4 - Transparency

 

BERL 05/288
B-1049 Brussels/Belgium

 

 

 

 

 

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From: EC ARES NOREPLY
Secretariat General of the European Commission


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Veuillez trouver ci-joint le document Ares(2016)6532189 concernant "FW: Access to documents request - Travel expenses for Commissioner Günther Oettinger - Gestdem 2016/6010" envoyé par M/Mme ve_pmo mail le 21/11/2016.

Please find attached document Ares(2016)6532189 regarding "FW: Access to documents request - Travel expenses for Commissioner Günther Oettinger - Gestdem 2016/6010" sent by Mr/Ms ve_pmo mail on 21/11/2016.

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Replies by e-mail must be addressed to the original sender DUYVER Ghislaine (PMO.2) (mailto:[email address]).
Remarque : Cet e-mail a été généré automatiquement par le système d'enregistrement central du courrier de la Commission européenne.
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From: EC ARES NOREPLY
Secretariat General of the European Commission


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Veuillez trouver ci-joint le document Ares(2016)7036311 concernant "GO - Access to documents request - Travel expenses for Commissioner Günther Oettinger - Gestdem 2016/6010" envoyé par M/Mme GAFFEY Veronica le 19/12/2016.

Please find attached document Ares(2016)7036311 regarding "GO - Access to documents request - Travel expenses for Commissioner Günther Oettinger - Gestdem 2016/6010" sent by Mr/Ms GAFFEY Veronica on 19/12/2016.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: This e-mail was automatically generated by the European Commission's central mail registration system.
Replies by e-mail must be addressed to the original sender GAFFEY Veronica (mailto:[email address]).
Remarque : Cet e-mail a été généré automatiquement par le système d'enregistrement central du courrier de la Commission européenne.
Toute réponse éventuelle par e-mail doit être adressée à l'expéditeur en personne, à savoir GAFFEY Veronica (mailto:[email address]).

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