The Federal Chancellery must disclose its internal minutes of federal-state conferences during the corona pandemic. The administrative court in Berlin decided on Thursday in response to a lawsuit by the Tagesspiegel under the Freedom of Information Act (Az.: VG 2 K 155/21).
Accordingly, the government must release the recordings of five of the 18 meetings in 2020, four of them from the time of the first corona lockdown in spring.
A representative said there were no minutes in the relevant files of the Chancellery for other dates from that year. The Tagesspiegel had already applied for access to the documents according to the IFG at the end of 2020, so the publication is initially limited to this period.
The meetings of the heads of government from the federal and state governments served to agree and coordinate the protective measures in the pandemic years 2020 and 2021 during the term of office of Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and were considered the unofficial “Corona government”. The discussions were confidential, and only the results of the deliberations were made public afterwards.
The lack of transparency in the procedure repeatedly brought criticism to the negotiators in view of the deep encroachments on fundamental rights that had been agreed upon. Confidentiality was not the end of the story either: details from the meetings, some of which were held as telephone conference calls, appeared more frequently in the media, sometimes even before they were over.
Inspection of the papers was also refused to Parliament in March 2021. At the time, the government explained that it was a matter of confidential short protocols that were exclusively for “internal use” in the Chancellery and that no information was given about their content or scope.
At the request of the Tagesspiegel, the government initially announced that these were merely “result protocols”. In the court proceedings, it was then said that individual counseling processes had also been documented.
However, the exchange must not become public: the publication could bring “a new and unwanted dynamic” into the further consultation process “through appropriate reporting”. In view of the controversial discussions about the corona protection measures, participants could be reluctant to make new suggestions.
For them, “public pressure to justify it is to be feared”. In addition, the government referred to the protection of the “core area of executive responsibility”. Disclosure would impair decision-making within the government.
In the oral hearing before the administrative court on Thursday, the Chancellor’s representative stated that the participating heads of government had trusted that their contributions to the conferences would remain confidential. In view of the course of the pandemic, it cannot be ruled out that the consultations will have to take place again in this form.
The Tagesspiegel, on the other hand, argued in the process that the protocols of the corona summits from the early days of the pandemic are already historical documents, since a new phase had begun with the spread of vaccines. In addition, there is considerable public interest in how the heads of government positioned themselves in the negotiations at the time.