European Ombudsman confirms that ECB's letter to Spanish government contained no suggestion for constitutional reform

This decision of the European Ombudsman is referred to a complaint filed in September 2011 by a Spanish lawyer. In his claim, the complainant alleged that the European Central Bank had not sufficiently justified the denial of access to a letter sent by the ECB to Spanish authorities where it allegedly included indications, recommendations and guidelines on budgetary matters.

The Spanish Constitution was amended in September 2011 with the purpose of limiting public debt. A short period before that amendment, in August 2011, the European Central Bank President sent a confidential letter to the Spanish Prime Minister, expressing concerns of the ECB on the extremely difficult situation of the Spanish economy and the need to take rapid measures. This letter sent to Spanish authorities was the object of the the complainant's request of access to information.

The ECB rejected the complainant's request claiming that the delivery of the letter could jeopardize the public interest in relation to economic and financial policies of member states, in this case Spain. In its decision, the Bank informed the Spanish claimant about the possibility of submitting an application for partial access to the document, under which the Bank could confirm whether the letter contained any instructions or did any recommendations to the Spanish government regarding the need for constitutional reform.

Given the Bank's refusal, the claimant chose to resort to the Ombudsman considering his right of access to information had been violated. His claim was based in part on the fact that the exception provided by the Bank was not legitimate based on the right of all citizens to know the origin of a constitutional reform.

In its investigation, the Ombudsman requested the ECB to grant access to the dossier of the case and the documentation. Further to this investigation the Ombudsman concluded that the ECB was not required to disclose the full contents of the letter since that disclosure could actually put at risk the general interests of the European Union and of Spain. However, as a result of the investigation, the Ombudsman confirmed that the letter contained no suggestion to the Spanish government to make changes in the Spanish Constitution.