The SMS-correspondence of the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, with the head of Pfizer, Albert Burla, or rather, her concealment, caused sharp criticism of the European Ombudsman.
Emily O’Reilly accused the EC of “bad administration” and a “lack of transparency” after her chairman hid text messages in a correspondence with US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer chief Albert Burla about vaccine procurement. Ursula Von der Leyen told the details only to the New York Times, refusing information to other journalists.
Brussels responded by stating that such messages “have a short lifespan and are usually left out of the record keeping”, spokesman Eric Mamer said:
“The rules of the European Commission do not say that you need to keep this kind of communication media. It is supposed to archive documents when it is something significant related to the policy of the European Commission. This does not necessarily mean that everything sent via SMS, WhatsApp, etc. must be saved.”
However, the Ombudsman was not satisfied with this answer and insisted on an investigation. It showed that the European Commission did not contact its President in search of the requested text messages. MEP from the Netherlands Sophie In’t Weld spoke about this:
“You don’t have to be a lawyer to see here an inaccurate interpretation of the rules that does not comply with the law. I am even more shocked and disturbed by the complete absence of any reaction from the European Parliament, because this should not be a problem for one MP, activist or journalist. This is an institutional issue. It’s about respecting core treaties, democratic obligations to be transparent to citizens and accountable.”
Ursula von der Leyen said that she would give an answer within the allotted time, until the end of April.