The European Commission has agreed to partial disclosure of its internal antitrust procedural manual (Antitrust ManProc) following an inquiry by the European Ombudsman. The inquiry was prompted by a complaint by a Brussels-based lawyer. The Commission refused his request for access in 2009, on the grounds that it contains a large collection of documents, modules, checklists, annexes, flowcharts and links on internal procedures, disclosure of which would be prejudicial to its investigation and inspections. In addition, this information applied generally and disclosure was detrimental to future cases and was specific to an individual case. Therefore, it was claimed, it is not subject to the obligations on access to files.
In his decision, the Ombudsman pointed to the underlying principles guaranteeing access to documents held by the EU is subject to certain limitations. He was persuaded that the Antitrust ManProc did contain sensitive internal market and that disclosure of the Commission’s investigation strategy could seriously undermine the successful conduct of future investigations. In addition, he accepted the procedures were a “living-tool” which were constantly updated and revised. However, he was not convinced this justified refusal of access to the entire Antitrust ManProc.
The conclusion was an agreement that there would be a “friendly solution” with the complainant. The Commission also indicated that it would provide a public disclosable version of the AntiTrust ManProc to coincide with the final version of its Best Practices.