EU ombudsman calls Commission response to text message ‘problematic’

The EU’s internal watchdog has criticized the European Commission’s defense as “problematic” over its refusal to release text messages between President Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer’s CEO.

The EU ombudsman had called on the bloc’s executive to share the controversial exchanges over the EU’s purchase of vaccine contracts.

The text exchange was reported in April 2021 by a New York Times reporter.

However, the Commission said in a response released on Wednesday that “the search by the President’s Office for relevant text messages matching the request for access to documents has yielded no results.”

“Due to their ephemeral and ephemeral nature, text messages and instant messages in general do not contain important information related to the policies, activities and decisions of the Commission, nor are they in the possession of the Institution,” Commission Vice-President Věra Jourova wrote in the response.

She added that the Commission would “approach all other Union institutions and propose that they jointly develop guidelines for their staff on the use of modern means of communication such as text and instance messaging”.
More than half of the 4.2 billion COVID-19 vaccines reserved by the EU were supplied by US-German company Pfizer/BioNTech

But NGOs and MEPs have expressed concern that important aspects of the contracts with the laboratories have remained confidential.

At the request of the New York Times, the Commission released three documents but no text messages between von der Leyen and Pfizer chief Albert Bourla.

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly called the Commission’s response “problematic” on Wednesday, but said a full analysis would be published in a few weeks.

In January, she had asked the European Commission to conduct “a more thorough investigation” into the text messages.

She criticized the fact that “no attempt had been made” and said that such “acting did not meet expectations of transparency” about public access to EU documents.

“In the context of the Ombudsman’s inquiry, it has emerged that the Commission considers that SMS messages generally do not fall under its internal document registration criteria, due to the ephemeral nature of their content,” the statement said.

“The Ombudsman considers that there was maladministration.”