Madrid, 20 December 2017 – In response to a complaint by Access Info Europe, the European Ombudsman has concluded that the European Commission’s practice of verifying the identity of persons making requests for access to documents by asking for their postal addresses is “disrespectful of citizens and their fundamental rights under the EU Charter” and constitutes “maladministration”.
The Ombudsman’s formal Decision dismisses the Commission’s arguments that its April 2014 postal addresses policy is necessary to prevent “abuse of the right to public access” as well as to ensure “legal certainty” in delivering answers, arguments that the Ombudsman says she “considers to be wrong on the facts and the law.”
In line with this policy, the Commission has been refusing to register or process requests sent by email or via AsktheEU.org unless and until a postal address is provided; the Commission also started sending copies of answers by post, sometimes even using expensive couriers such as DHL.
Access Info welcomes the Ombudsman’s Decision as well as her observation that “the Commission’s practice is archaic for the 21st century” and that the Commission’s practice “contradicts its own advice that the EU administration itself fully embraces the digital age and maximizes the use of electronic communication.”
“This Decision is important because it’s about the basic right of Europe’s 512 million citizens to ask the EU for information in the easiest way possible,” explained Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info.
“As the Ombudsman says, the choice of how to request and receive information should be made by the citizen. For many, postal mail is a redundant form of communication,” added Darbishire.
Access Info has seen numerous problems caused by the postal addresses policy, including that it slows down the registration of requests, is a disincentive for requesters who can feel intimidated by being asked where they live, and has resulted in information being sent only by post rather than in digital format by email.
Access Info has also argued consistently it doesn’t matter who is asking for information because this is a fundamental right which can be exercised by any European citizen: if information is public for one person then it’s public for everyone!
The Ombudsman’s Decision on the European Commission’s postal addresses policy is available here:
For more information, please contact:
Helen Darbishire | Executive Director | Access Info Europe
by email or on mobile number: +34 667 685 319