Irish man’s document request to European Commission was mishandled, ombudsman finds

An inquiry launched by the European Ombudsman into the handling of an Irish man’s request for public access to records held by the European Commission has found the commission’s handling of the request constituted maladministration.

James Cogan requested access to information relating to used cooking oil (UCO) in April 2020, however, he was informed that the commission could not identify any document falling within the scope of his request.

Mr Cogan’s stated reason for seeking access to the information was to monitor possible fraud in the UCO sector.

“Ireland is a massive consumer of biodiesel made from used cooking oil. Genuine used cooking oil is great. But it’s easy to fraudulently put in cheap virgin palm oil instead of used cooking oil, and that’s why transparency is important,” Mr Cogan said.

Mr Cogan took the view that the requested information was in possession of the commission and it would require “no more than a few moments to copy it and make it available”. In September 2020, he lodged a complaint to the European Ombudsman.

The ombudsman opened an inquiry into how the commission dealt with Mr Cogan’s request and confirmed the commission does hold the data he requested, albeit not in a single document.

The ombudsman said disclosure of this information would serve a public interest and could support the commission’s monitoring role.

It found the commission’s failure to co-operate with the complainant and to take into account his clarifications concerning the documents he wished to obtain constituted maladministration.

However, the assessment of the commission regarding the request remains unchanged.

The commission said it was “not in a position to accept the ombudsman’s proposal” that it should review the documents it holds for the period indicated by Mr Cogan, with a view to disclosing them.

The commission instead invited Mr. Cogan to make a new request for access to the documents.

The office of the European Ombudsman was “disappointed” that the Commission did not accept its recommendation, its director of inquiries Rosita Hickey told Mr Cogan in a letter.

“We are disappointed to report that the commission did not accept our recommendation that it should take into account your clarifications and review the documents it holds containing the countries of origin and relevant volumes of production and import of used cooking oil for the period you indicated with a view to disclosing them,” she said.

Only about four cases per year (1 per cent) end in a finding of maladministration.

The issue will now pass to the European Parliament to deal with.

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