The EU ombudsman pinned the European Commission on Friday after its refusal to transmit to the press text messages exchanged by its president, Ursula von der Leyen, with the CEO of Pfizer on purchases of vaccines against Covid-19 .

The ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, has asked that Ursula von der Leyen's office carry out "further research" in order to find these messages and assess whether their content can be revealed in accordance with the rules of transparency applicable to the documents of the EU.

"Transparency"

The Commission will consider updating its policy on access to documents, said a spokesperson interviewed during a press briefing on Friday, without wanting to give more details.

After an article in the New York Times in April 2021 reporting that Ursula von der Leyen had exchanged text messages with the boss of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, in the context of negotiations on a contract to purchase vaccines against Covid-19, a journalist had asked the Commission for access to text messages and other documents relating to these discussions.

The European executive, which was in charge of negotiating vaccine purchases on behalf of member states, agreed to send him three documents (an e-mail, a letter and a press release) but no SMS.

“No attempt was made to identify whether the text messages in question existed.

This way of acting does not meet expectations in terms of transparency, ”criticized the mediator, Emily O'Reilly, seized by the journalist.

She has given the Commission until April 26 to respond to her recommendations, which are however not binding.

"This case is more important than a simple exchange of SMS"

The European executive had indicated that no recording of these messages had been kept, considering that the text messages were not subject to the rules on the transparency of the European institutions dating from 2001. As part of the investigation triggered by the mediator, the Commission argued that these messages are “by nature short-lived documents, which do not normally contain material information relating to the policies, activities and decisions of the Commission”.

For the mediator on the contrary, "it is clear" that the text messages "come within the framework of European legislation on public access to documents" and "the public can have access to them if they concern the work of the institution ".

She called on the European administration to change its document retention practices to take into account “modern means of communication”.

More than half of the 4.2 billion doses against Covid-19 purchased or reserved by the EU are supplied by the American-German duo Pfizer-BioNTech.

Our dossier on Ursula von der Leyen

Key aspects of contracts with labs, including prices, are confidential, which has drawn criticism from MEPs and NGOs.

"This case is more important than a simple exchange of SMS," said Dutch MEP Sophie in't Veld (Renew Europe).

“The European Commission has become less transparent, less accountable to the European Parliament and frankly more disconnected from European democracy,” she denounced, calling on the European Parliament to react.

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