The only available official documentation of the federal-state conferences on pandemic control is apparently to remain under lock and key for a long time. This emerges from a decision by the Federal Chancellery in response to a Tagesspiegel request under the Freedom of Information Act (IFG).
Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act guarantees access to official documents, unless there are grounds for refusal. The German Chancellery refuses access to the transcripts of meetings, citing the protection of official deliberations and decisions, as well as the protection of the ‘core of executive responsibility’.
Another conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the ministers of the Länder is scheduled for Wednesday. The meetings in the Chancellor’s office serve to better coordinate policy on the pandemic.
The implementation of the jointly adopted decisions is the responsibility of the Länder. The decisions are “not legally binding and are of a purely political nature”, the government had stated.
It is true that the results are mostly announced publicly immediately after the meetings. Nevertheless, the meeting was criticised, among other things, for its lack of transparency. Read here.
It is not possible to understand in detail how the negotiations were conducted, who contributed to which positions and how decisions were taken. This has been disproportionated to the outstanding importance of the committee in the fight against the pandemic.
“Reporting of results for own use”
The meeting is partly videoed, but there is no official recording. According to the Federal Chancellery, it only produces “short minutes of the results for its own use”, as is usual in the administration. However, these minutes are “confidential”.
The Chancellor’s Office has now rejected an IFG request for disclosure. The disclosure would impair the “protection of an unbiased and free exchange of opinions within the federal government, as well as between the federal government and the states”, according to the decision.
This was particularly true in view of the fact that the pandemic was a “dynamic process of a completely new medical and social phenomenon”. It was “imperative” that the government could raise, discuss and also reject ideas “in a protected area”.
The individual deliberations of the federal-state conference cannot be viewed in isolation, it says, “but build on each other” and form an “ongoing process.”
It all depends on the course of the pandemic
Thus, the protocols remain closed to the public for the time being. Whether the federal government will release them in the future will depend on the course of the pandemic. Access could thus only be made possible when the virus has become completely harmless and the pandemic has been “overcome” from the government’s point of view – possibly never. The Tagesspiegel has lodged an objection against the rejection of the IFG application, which now has to be decided again by the Chancellor’s Office.