In an interview in April, von der Leyen revealed she had exchanged texts with Bourla for a month when they were negotiating a vaccine contract. But in response to a public access request by a journalist, the Commission later said no record had been kept of such messages.
“The narrow way in which this public access request was treated meant that no attempt was made to identify if any text messages existed,” said ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.
“The ombudsman found that this amounted to maladministration,” it said in a statement, asking the Commission to check again for the relevant messages and to reply to the recommendation by April 26.
A spokesman for the Commission declined to comment on the matter but said it would reply to the ombudsman by the deadline.
The ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding, but usually trigger heightened scrutiny from the a Parliament.
“The European Commission has become less transparent, less accountable to the European Parliament and frankly more unhinged from European democracy,” said liberal European lawmaker Sophia In ‘t Veld, who is a member of the same grouping as French President Emmanuel Macron’s party.
The deal negotiated via text messages and calls, according to what von der Leyen herself said in her interview with the New York Times, was the biggest contract ever sealed for Covid-19 vaccines, with the EU committing to buy 900 million Pfizer-BioNTech shots, with an option to buy another 900 million.