The existence of chat traffic between the president of the European Commission and the CEO of the pharmaceutical company came to light last May through an article in The New York Times. According to the newspaper, the two had contact via text messages and phone calls for a month and “personal diplomacy played a major role” in a new purchase deal of 1.8 billion doses of the corona vaccine.
A reporter later requested the SMS traffic via a WOB request, but received no response in Brussels. The European Commission only claimed to have an email, letter and press release on the subject. The European Ombudsman’s inquiry now shows that Ursula von der Leyen’s team did not even bother to search for text messages. The Commission does not regard SMS traffic as a ‘document’ that you can request.
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly thinks otherwise: “If text messages concern EU policies and decisions, they should be treated as EU documents.” By keeping text traffic under the cap, von der Leyen is guilty of ‘mismanagement’ according to ombudsman Emily O’Reilly. Her court now has to look for the messages again.
Moreover, the watchdog believes that Brussels cannot hide behind the word ‘document’ old-fashioned. O’Reilly: “The EU needs to grow with the times we live in and the modern methods we use to communicate.”
The ombudsman has used the heaviest weapon against von der Leyen: a recommendation. The European Commission, itself acting as a watchdog of regulations towards member states, must now start looking again for chat traffic.
Brussels makes a virtue of necessity and uses the procedure (they have three months to respond) as an excuse not to have to respond to critical questions about the affair. The spokesman for von der Leyen reiterates that according to the rules, only documents must be registered. He does not want to say whether the dearly paid top woman knew her text messages. First, the Ombudsman receives a response.
It is not the first time that the top German politician has been in trouble due to a lack of transparency. During her time as Defense Minister in Germany, she came under fire for dubious tenders. She was eventually acquitted of wrongdoing, but also in this case there was a role for deleted text messages.
D66 MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld demands that von der Leyen come and give an explanation in the European Parliament.