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The European Ombudsman
at a Glance
Having trouble with the EU administration?
Contact the European Ombudsman
Who is he?
The institution of the European Ombudsman was created by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. The European Parliament elected the first Ombudsman in 1995. Since 1 April 2003, Professor P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, former national ombudsman in Greece, has held the post.
What does he do?
The European Ombudsman investigates and reports on maladministration in the institutions and bodies of the European Community, such as the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. Only the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance acting in their judicial role do not fall within his jurisdiction. The Ombudsman usually conducts inquiries on the basis of complaints but can also launch inquiries on his own initiative.
Who can complain and how?
Any citizen of the Union or any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State can lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman by mail, fax or E-mail. A complaint form is available from the Ombudsman's office and can also be downloaded from the Ombudsman's Website.
What are his powers?
The Ombudsman has wide powers of investigation. The Community institutions and bodies must supply him with the information he requests and give him access to the files concerned. The Member States must also provide him with information that may help to clarify instances of maladministration by the Community institutions and bodies. If the case is not resolved satisfactorily during the course of the inquiries, the Ombudsman will try to find a friendly solution which puts right the case of maladministration and satisfies the complainant. If the attempt at conciliation fails, the Ombudsman can make recommendations to solve the case. If the institution does not accept his recommendations, the Ombudsman can make a special report on the matter to the European Parliament.
Types of admissible complaints
Many of the complaints lodged with the European Ombudsman concern administrative delay, lack of transparency or refusal of access to information. Some concern work relations between the institutions and their agents, recruitment of staff and the running of competitions. Others are related to contractual relations between the institutions and private firms, for example in case of abrupt termination of a contract.
A brochure entitled "The European Ombudsman - Could he help you?" containing a complaint form is available from the Ombudsman's office. Every year, the Ombudsman presents his Annual Report to the European Parliament. The Annual Report is translated into all the official languages of the Union. The Ombudsman also has a Website on the Internet which provides detailed and updated information on his activities. Finally, the Ombudsman makes official visits to all the Member States, which enables him to present his work directly to the citizens.
Examples of cases solved following the Ombudsman's intervention
- Contractual problems
A UK sub-contractor is paid after the Ombudsman suggests a flexible approach
A UK sub-contractor complained to the Ombudsman that it was unfairly penalised because of a clause in a contract with the Commission. The clause stated that the main contractor would not be paid until he submitted the cost statements of all his sub-contractors. Because all of the sub-contractors had not submitted their cost statements on time, the Commission held back on payment. After a suggestion by the Ombudsman, the Commission asked the main contractor to submit the cost statements it had received so that payment could be made to sub-contractors who had respected the deadline.
Lack of transparency
Council releases documents to Statewatch after Ombudsman intervenes
Statewatch, a UK-based group monitoring civil liberties in the EU, complained to the Ombudsman after the Council refused to give it access to the agendas of the "Senior Level Group" and the "EU-US Task Force". The Council claimed that the documents were not "held by the Council" but by its General Secretariat, an institution "different" from the Council. The Ombudsman rejected this argument, underlining the importance of safeguarding the widest possible access for European citizens to information and the need to respect rules on the right of access to documents. The Council reconsidered its initial decision and gave the complainant access to the documents.
A German firm receives payment and interest from 1995 after complaining to the Ombudsman
A German consulting firm complained that the Commission had still not paid the final instalment of its fee after a six-year delay. The firm had handed in the necessary programme report and the financial statement in 1994. The Ombudsman found that the files relating to the programme had been held by the Commission's technical assistance office (TAO). This office was then closed and the relevant files sealed by the Belgian judiciary, meaning that the Commission did not have access to them. The Ombudsman found that even though part of the delay might be due to a failure by the TAO to deal with the case, the Commission could not be exonerated. During the course of his inquiry, the Commission obtained a copy of the files and paid the final instalment and interest from 1995.
Infringement of rights of defence
Commission moves to defend citizens' rights in infringement cases after Ombudsman's inquiry
A Greek citizen brought a case to the Commission, alleging that the Greek authorities had violated Community public procurement law in awarding the project to construct the Metro in Thessaloniki. The complainant then called into question the way the Commission had investigated and closed his case. The Ombudsman found that the Commission misinformed the complainant of the reasons for closing its investigation and closed the case without giving the complainant a genuine opportunity to produce further evidence. He criticised the Commission over its handling of the complaint and suggested that a Code be drawn up to govern how the Commission deals with citizens in the administrative stage of the infringement procedure. On 20 March 2002, the Commission submitted a Communication regarding this problem to the Ombudsman and the European Parliament.
How to contact the Ombudsman
- Effective competition is crucial to an open market economy. It cuts prices, raises quality and expands customer choice. Competition allows technological innovation to flourish. For this to happen, fair play on the part of businesses and governments is essential. The European Commission has wide powers to make sure they stick to European Union rules on fair trade in goods and services.