Thursday, 19 February 2009

European Parliament: Ombudsman (II)

In this part we take a closer look at the Ombudsman below the treaty level.

Besides referring to the 2007 Annual Report of the European Ombudsman as an opportunity to learn more about the Ombudsman’s work, we use it as an example of the relatively few stages when the European Parliament deals with an own-initiative report.

We refer the regulations concerning the European Ombudsman’s work, the EP’s Rules of Procedure and the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour as well as the current Ombudsman’s thoughts on transparency.


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Web pages

If you are an EU citizen or resident or a legal person interested in lodging a complaint, or if your interest is academic, you can find the information you want on the web pages The European Ombudsman:

http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/home.faces


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Annual Report and EP procedure

The latest Annual Report of the European Ombudsman is for the year 2007 (published 10 March 2008):

http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/activities/annualreports.faces



In the European Parliament the committee responsible for petitions and relations with the European Ombudsman is the Committee on Petitions (PETI), mentioned in Article 194 TEC.

On 18 September 2008 the Committee on Petitions approved the own-initiative report by Dushana Zdravkova on the annual report on the European Ombudsman's activities in 2007, A6-0358/2008; procedure 2008/2158(INI).

The European Parliament approved the annual report by a non-legislative resolution on 23 October 2008, P6_TA(2008)0524, but found the tables of statistics confusing. (The vote was 465 to 1, with 7 abstentions.)

The EP noted, despite a rising proportion of admissible complaints, that only 16 per cent of the the complaints submitted were admissible. The EP therefore recommended an enhanced information campaign be conducted amongst European citizens designed to raise their awareness of the functions and competence of the European Ombudsman (or rather the limits).


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Charter of Fundamental Rights

The European Ombudsman is mentioned in the current Article 195 TEC and the future(?) Article 228 TFEU.

In addition, two provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which has been declared politically binding, but would become legally binding on the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, concern the Ombudsman.

Article 43 reiterates the right to refer cases of maladministration to the European Ombudsman concerning the activities of the institutions, bodies, offices or agencies of the Union, with the exception of the Court of Justice of the European Union acting in its judicial role.


The other Charter provision, worth presenting here in full because at the centre of the European Ombudsman’s activities, is Article 41 on the right to good administration (OJEU 14.12.2007 C 303/10─11):


Article 41
Right to good administration

1. Every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union.

2. This right includes:

(a) the right of every person to be heard, before any individual measure which would affect him or her adversely is taken;

(b) the right of every person to have access to his or her file, while respecting the legitimate interests of confidentiality and of professional and business secrecy;

(c) the obligation of the administration to give reasons for its decisions.

3. Every person has the right to have the Union make good any damage caused by its institutions or by its servants in the performance of their duties, in accordance with the general principles common to the laws of the Member States.

4. Every person may write to the institutions of the Union in one of the languages of the Treaties and must have an answer in the same language.


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Ombudsman’s duties

The detailed rules referred to in Article 195(4) TEC (Article 228(4) TFEU) have been laid down by the EP in Decision 94/262/ECSC, EC, Euratom of 9 March 1994 on the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the Ombudsman's duties, originally published OJ 4.5.1994 L 113/35. The Decision has been amended, so this link leads to the consolidated version (of 31 July 2008):

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CONSLEG:1994D0262:20080731:EN:PDF

The provisions are relevant not only for the European Ombudsman when conducting his inquiries, but also for EU citizens and residents considering referring a complaint to him.


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EP Rules of Procedure

Articles 194 to 196 of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure (16th edition, October 2008) have further provisions on the appointment, activities and dismissal of the Ombudsman:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+RULES-EP+20081022+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN&language=EN


TITLE IX OMBUDSMAN

Rule 194 Appointment of the Ombudsman

1. At the start of each parliamentary term, immediately after his election or in the cases referred to in paragraph 8, the President shall call for nominations for the office of Ombudsman and set a time limit for their submission. A notice calling for nominations shall be published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

2. Nominations must have the support of at least forty Members who are nationals of at least two Member States.

Each Member may support only one nomination.

Nominations shall include all the supporting documents needed to show conclusively that the nominee fulfils the conditions required by the Regulations on the Ombudsman.

3. Nominations shall be forwarded to the committee responsible, which may ask to hear the nominees.

Such hearings shall be open to all Members.

4. A list of admissible nominations in alphabetical order shall then be submitted to the vote of Parliament.

5. The vote shall be held by secret ballot on the basis of a majority of the votes cast.

If no candidate is elected after the first two ballots, only the two candidates obtaining the largest number of votes in the second ballot may continue to stand.

In the event of any tie the eldest candidate shall prevail.

6. Before opening the vote, the President shall ensure that at least half of Parliament's component Members are present.

7. The person appointed shall immediately be called upon to take an oath before the Court of Justice.

8. The Ombudsman shall exercise his duties until his successor takes office, except in the case of his death or dismissal.



Rule 195 Activities of the Ombudsman

1. The decision on the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the Ombudsman's duties and the provisions implementing that decision as adopted by the Ombudsman are annexed for information to the Rules of Procedure.

2. The Ombudsman shall, in accordance with Article 3(6) and (7) of the above decision, inform Parliament of cases of maladministration, on which the committee responsible may draw up a report. He shall also, in accordance with Article 3(8) of the above decision, submit a report to Parliament at the end of each annual session on the outcome of his inquiries. The committee responsible shall draw up a report thereon which shall be submitted to Parliament for debate.

3. The Ombudsman may also inform the committee responsible at its request, or be heard by it on his own initiative.



Rule 196 Dismissal of the Ombudsman

1. One-tenth of Parliament's component Members may request the Ombudsman's dismissal if he no longer fulfils the conditions required for the performance of his duties or is guilty of serious misconduct.

2. The request shall be forwarded to the Ombudsman and to the committee responsible, which, if it decides by a majority of its members that the reasons are well-founded, shall submit a report to Parliament. If he so requests, the Ombudsman shall be heard before the report is put to the vote. Parliament shall, following a debate, take a decision by secret ballot.

3. Before opening the vote, the President shall ensure that half of Parliament's component Members are present.

4. If the vote is in favour of the Ombudsman's dismissal and he does not resign accordingly the President shall, at the latest by the part-session following that at which the vote was held, apply to the Court of Justice to have the Ombudsman dismissed with a request for a ruling to be given without delay.

Resignation by the Ombudsman shall terminate the procedure.


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The Decision 94/262 can also be found as Annex X to the EP Rules of Procedure.


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Code of Good Administration

The Ombudsman’s European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour was adopted in 2001 by the European Parliament, and it has been updated to take into account the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The current edition dates from 2005, and its intention is to explain in detail what the Charter’s right to good administration should mean in practice. The Code is available here:

http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/code/en/default.htm



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Diamandouros interview

On 18 February 2009 EurActiv published an interview with the European Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, who took over the job in 2003 after Jacob Söderman.

Under the heading’Swedes to prioritise transparency at EU helm’ Diamandouros shared his thoughts on the incoming Swedish EU Council presidency and on this week’s European Parliament committee report on transparency.

The European Ombudsman did his best to inform the public about the limits of his mandate, namely EU institutions and bodies: “The Ombudsman conceded that the "vast majority" of the 3,500-4000 complaints he receives each year from citizens are inadmissible, because they should be dealt with at national level.”

The interview is available here:

http://www.euractiv.com/en/pa/swedes-prioritise-transparency-eu-helm/article-179559







Ralf Grahn