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The European Ombudsman had called for the texts to become publicly available, but were denied access to them. Following the refusal, a case against the European Commission was opened by the European Ombudsman asking why they were not able to gain access to the texts.
A statement on September 15, 2021, from the European Ombudsman’s website read: “The complainant sought public access from the European Commission to text messages and other documents concerning discussions between the Commission President and the CEO of a pharmaceutical company on the purchase of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The Commission said it could not provide access to any text messages, as no record had been kept of any such messages.
“The complainant maintains the Commission has an obligation to record instant messages relating to important policy or political matters, such as the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
“The Ombudsman opened an inquiry and sought to meet with representatives of the Commission to discuss the applicable procedures and practice.”
A letter was sent from the Ombudsman for the European Union which began: “I have received a complaint from X against the European Commission.
“It concerns public access to text messages on the conclusion of a purchase agreement for a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year, as reported in the New York Times.”
It continued: “The Commission has partially disclosed three documents to the complainant, but stated that it has no records of text messages falling under the request.”
“The Commission also stated that it does not have “to preserve each and every document”, and that text messages are generally “short-lived” in nature and thus, in principle, “excluded from its record-keeping policy”.
The complaint called upon the Commission to release the texts, which they have said they have not kept a record of.
The letter added: “I have decided that it is necessary for my inquiry team to meet with the relevant representatives of the Commission to obtain further information.
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“Specifically, I would appreciate it, if the Commission could, during the meeting, explain its policy on keeping records of text messages and how this policy is implemented in practice, whether, and if so how and where, it searched for possible text messages falling under the complainant’s request.
“I would be grateful if the relevant Commission representatives could contact Ms Michaela Gehring who is the Inquiries Officer on this inquiry, to agree the arrangements for the meeting to take place before October 8, 2021, if possible.
“Information or documents that the Commission considers to be confidential will not be disclosed to the complainant or any other person without prior agreement.”
Although there has not yet been a recorded response from the Commission, it is clear there is concern and frustration from the Ombudsman about the nature of the texts and why they have not been made available.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega
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