Not finding VDL-Pfizer texts is a ‘wake-up call’ – POLITICO

The EU’s institutional watchdog again chastised the European Commission on Thursday for refusing to provide or even seriously seek text messages that President Ursula von der Leyen allegedly exchanged with a pharmaceutical industry executive.

Reaffirming a previous finding of maladministration, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has delivered a final salvo in an ongoing dispute over whether text messages count as the type of document that should be kept in public records – or if WhatsApp is essentially a loophole in the EU transparency rules.

The Commission’s approach “leaves the regrettable impression of a European institution that is not open on matters of significant public interest,” O’Reilly said in a statement closing the investigation into a case dubbed ” Delete-gate” by critics.

This is all the more urgent in light of revelations about Uber’s lobbying tactics earlier this week, O’Reilly said. She urged the Commission to come up with a more serious approach to preserving text messages, calling the issue a “wake-up call”.

The dispute stems from a New York Times article last year, which referred to direct text exchanges between Von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about coronavirus vaccines. After the Commission rejected journalist Alexander Fanta’s access request, O’Reilly issued an initial finding of maladministration and urged the Commission to make a more serious effort to find the texts earlier this year.

Last month, the Commission replied that these “ephemera and ephemeral documents are not preserved”. At the same time, the Commission recognized that these texts could fall within the definition of records to be retained.

O’Reilly has published recommendations for the preservation of texts, including technological solutions to facilitate their safeguarding.

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