The confidential press background talks of the former Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) no longer have to be disclosed afterwards. The Berlin-Brandenburg Higher Administrative Court decided on Wednesday after a lawsuit by the Tagesspiegel against the Federal Chancellery (Az.: 6 B 1/21). The requested information is no longer available as a result of the change of government, it was said to justify it.
The Federal Chancellery regularly organizes meetings with media representatives for an informal exchange on political issues. To do this, the journalists must undertake to maintain silence about the content of the conversation. The Chancellery rejected inquiries from the Tagesspiegel in 2016 about this practice. The focus was in particular on the assessments and information provided by the Chancellery on Brexit, the refugee crisis and how to deal with the AfD. The government justified their refusal with the agreed secrecy. If details of the meetings became known, they would have to be stopped. However, they are irreplaceable for the ability of the Chancellery to work.
The administrative court had nevertheless upheld the lawsuit in the first instance in November 2020 (case no.: 27 K 34.17). The Higher Administrative Court has now overturned this judgment with a view to the “relevant current point in time”. Information on the date, venue, topics, participants and the specific content of all background talks held in 2016 can no longer be given. Information on this is neither documented in the files or processes of the Federal Chancellery nor can it be requested from people working in the Chancellery. All persons who could have taken part in the background talks for the Federal Chancellery left in the course of the change of government. The Federal Chancellery is also not obliged to determine which other persons still working for it would potentially be in a position to provide information on this. In the opinion of the court, such an interrogation would exceed the limit of an official investigation of the facts that is not owed.
The Tagesspiegel had argued in the proceedings that the Chancellery should have determined and secured the official knowledge of the information requests at the latest with the first instance judgment in 2020 in order to be able to fulfill the right to information under press law. In addition, those who were officially involved at the time could still be questioned now.
An urgent procedure conducted by the Tagesspiegel in the matter also failed in 2017 before the Higher Administrative Court. At that time, the judges decided that there was no urgent need for public information about the background talks of the Chancellery, which is why main proceedings should be conducted (Az.: OVG 6 S 1.17). The OVG did not allow an appeal to the Federal Administrative Court. A legal complaint can still be lodged against this.