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Procedure : 2011/2106(INI)
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Document selected : A7-0285/2011

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PV 27/10/2011 - 5
CRE 27/10/2011 - 5

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PV 27/10/2011 - 8.1
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Thursday, 27 October 2011 - Strasbourg Final edition
Ombudsman's annual report 2010

European Parliament resolution of 27 October 2011 on the Annual Report on the European Ombudsman's activities in 2010 (2011/2106(INI))

The European Parliament ,

–  having regard to the Annual Report on the European Ombudsman's activities in 2010,

–  having regard to Article 24, third paragraph, Article 228, and Article 298 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–  having regard to Articles 41 and 43 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to its resolution of 18 June 2008(1) on the adoption of a decision of the European Parliament amending its Decision 94/262/ECSC, EC, Euratom of 9 March 1994 on the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the Ombudsman's duties,

–  having regard to the framework agreement on cooperation concluded between the European Parliament and the Ombudsman on 15 March 2006, which entered into force on 1 April 2006,

–  having regard to the implementing provisions of the Statute of the Ombudsman of 1 January 2009(2) ,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on the European Ombudsman's activities,

–  having regard to Rule 205(2), second and third sentences, of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Petitions (A7-0285/2011),

A.  whereas the Annual Report on the European Ombudsman's activities in 2010 was formally submitted to the President of Parliament on 10 May 2011 and the Ombudsman, Mr Nikiforos Diamandouros, presented the report to the Committee on Petitions in Brussels on 23 May 2011,

B.  whereas Article 24 of the TFEU lays down that ‘every citizen of the Union may apply to the Ombudsman established in accordance with Article 228’,

C.  whereas Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights states that ‘Every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions and bodies of the Union’,

D.  whereas the common foreign policy, the security policy and the responsibilities of the European Council fall within the Ombudsman's remit,

E.  whereas Article 43 of the Charter states that ‘Any citizen of the Union and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State has the right to refer to the Ombudsman of the Union cases of maladministration in the activities of the Community institutions or bodies, with the exception of the Court of Justice acting in its judicial role’,

F.  whereas the Charter for Fundamental Rights of the European Union has become legally binding in most Member States following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, conferring additional legitimacy on the decisions of the European Ombudsman,

G.  whereas the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty introduced a legal basis for common rules on administrative procedures within the EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, which pursuant to Article 298 of the TFEU ‘shall have the support of an open, efficient and independent European administration’, as well as having an impact on the work of the European Ombudsman, inter alia as a result of the establishment of the European External Action Service and the fact that the European Council has become an EU institution,

H.  whereas maladministration occurs when a public body fails to act in accordance with a rule or principle which is binding upon it,

I.  whereas Mr Diamandouros was re-elected European Ombudsman by Parliament in its plenary session in Strasbourg on 20 January 2010 and took his oath before the Court of Justice in Luxembourg on 25 October 2010,

J.  whereas on 27 September 2010 the European Ombudsman institution celebrated its fifteenth anniversary; whereas in this decade and a half the Ombudsman has answered more than 36 000 complainants and completed more than 3 800 inquiries into possible maladministration,

K.  whereas the Ombudsman used the fifteenth anniversary of his institution to launch a new strategy for his 2009-2014 mandate; whereas this strategy focuses on listening to stakeholders, delivering results faster, impacting positively on the Union's administrative culture, providing timely and useful information to stakeholders and the public, and rethinking constantly the use of the resources available,

L.  whereas in 2010 the Ombudsman received 2 667 complaints; whereas this represents a decline of more than 400 compared to 2009,

M.  whereas in 2010 the Ombudsman completed 326 inquiries (318 in 2009) of which 323 were based on complaints; whereas the average time required for completing inquiries fell from 13 months in 2008 to 9 months in 2009 and 2010; whereas most of the inquiries were completed within one year (66 %) and over half (52 %) were completed within three months,

N.  whereas the Ombudsman can launch own-initiative inquiries when he intends to investigate a possible case of maladministration based on a complaint by a non-authorised person or when there appears to be a systemic problem in the institutions; whereas the Ombudsman completed three and opened six own-initiative inquiries in 2010,

O.  whereas 65 % of inquiries opened in 2010 concerned the European Commission (56 % in 2009), 10 % concerned the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), 7 % the European Parliament, 2 % the Council of the European Union, and 1 % the Court of Justice of the European Union,

P.  whereas in over half (55 %) of the cases closed in 2010 the institution concerned accepted a friendly solution or settled the matter,

Q.  whereas the Ombudsman may issue a further remark if, in dealing with a case, an opportunity to enhance the quality of the administration is identified; whereas the Ombudsman issued further remarks in 14 cases in 2010 (down from 28 in 2009) with a view to enhancing the quality of the service provided to citizens,

R.  whereas a critical remark is made in cases where (i) it is no longer possible for the institution concerned to eliminate the maladministration, (ii) where the maladministration has no general implications or (iii) where no follow-up by the Ombudsman is deemed necessary,

S.  whereas a critical remark confirms to the complainant that the complaint was justified and indicates to the institution what it has done wrong, so it can avoid maladministration in the future; whereas over the last few years the number of critical remarks has been showing a continual decrease, falling from 44 in 2008 and 35 in 2009 to 33 in 2010,

T.  whereas a draft recommendation is issued in cases where follow-up action by the Ombudsman is necessary, where the maladministration can be eliminated or where the maladministration is particularly serious or has general implications,

U.  whereas the Ombudsman identified instances of maladministration in 12 % of the cases (40) in 2010; whereas he obtained positive outcomes in seven of these cases by making draft recommendations,

V.  whereas if an institution or body fails to respond satisfactorily to a draft recommendation, the Ombudsman may send a special report to the European Parliament,

W.  whereas a special report constitutes the Ombudsman's ultimate weapon and is the last substantive step he takes in dealing with a case, since the adoption of a resolution and the exercise of Parliament's powers are matters for the political judgment of the Parliament,

X.  whereas the Ombudsman submitted one special report to Parliament in 2010,

1.  Approves the Annual Report for 2010 presented by the European Ombudsman; congratulates the Ombudsman on his re-election in January 2010;

2.  Takes note of the new strategy the Ombudsman has developed for his current mandate and which forms the basis for his initiatives and activities; notes that this strategy includes inter alia the ongoing dialogue with complainants, civil society and other stakeholders, identifying best practices in cooperation and consultation with colleagues in the European Network of Ombudsmen, making EU procedures fairer and more transparent, and promoting a culture of service in the administrations of the EU institutions;

3.  Stresses that transparency, access to information and respect for the rights of European citizens are essential preconditions for maintaining trust between citizens and the institutions;

4.  Considers the role of the Ombudsman in enhancing openness and accountability in the decision-making processes and administration of the European Union as an essential contribution towards a Union in which decisions are taken ‘as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen’, as provided for in Article 1(2) of the Treaty on European Union;

5.  Recalls that the European Ombudsman institution on 27 September 2010 celebrated its fifteenth anniversary; notes that over these fifteen years the Ombudsman has responded to more than 36 000 complaints and played a major role in helping the European institutions to provide redress and to raise the quality of their administration;

6.  Notes that the experience of these fifteen years of activity has provided the Ombudsman institution with a real insight into trends in maladministration, systemic problems and structural weaknesses in administrations, which enables it to provide guidance for administrations with a view to avoiding the repetition of mistakes and improving the quality and transparency of their work;

7.  Welcomes the Ombudsman's initiative to regularly publish studies in which he examines the EU institutions' follow-up to his critical and further remarks; notes that the overall rate of satisfactory follow-up in 2009 was 81 % (94 % in the case of further remarks and 70 % for the critical remarks); considers this to be an encouraging development; considers nevertheless that there is room for improvement, especially with regard to the rate for critical remarks; urges the institutions to work together with the Ombudsman to improve their follow-up rate;

8.  Welcomes the generally constructive cooperation between the Ombudsman and the EU institutions and bodies; endorses the Ombudsman in his role of external control mechanism and as a valuable source of ongoing improvement to European administration;

9.  Commends the Ombudsman on his institution's new logo and visual identity as well as on his new-look Annual Report, commends the Ombudsman also for enhancing his institution's transparency by publishing on his website information about all new inquiries he is opening into complaints;

10.  Stresses the need for citizens to be better informed about the modus operandi of the institution and the information website that validates the transparency of the Ombudsman's role;

11.  Suggests that when the Ombudsman presents his annual report in a meeting of the Committee on Petitions, not only representatives of the European Commission but also of the respective administrations of the European Parliament, the Council and other EU institutions, agencies, services and bodies that have been the subject of an investigation, a special report, critical remarks or other measures taken by the Ombudsman should be present to comment on the report and take part in the discussion; urges the administrations of Parliament, the Council and the other EU institutions, agencies and bodies concerned to be represented in future meetings when the Ombudsman's annual report is presented and discussed; believes that their participation in such discussions and the sharing of their views on good administration and on the problems overcome as a result of the European Ombudsman's recommendations and remarks could help to improve the service provided to EU citizens and interinstitutional dialogue and contribute to the establishment of a genuine service culture;

12.  Calls on the Ombudsman to keep Parliament informed of developments in his relations with the new European External Action Service and the European Council;

13.  Notes that in 2010 the Ombudsman received 2 667 complaints from citizens, companies, associations, NGOs and regional offices; notes that this represents a decline of more than 400 compared to the previous year;

14.  Concurs that this decline in inadmissible complaints can be attributed in part to the interactive guide which was introduced on the Ombudsman's website in 2009 and which effectively helps direct complainants to the body best placed to help them;

15.  Encourages the European Ombudsman to continue to promote the European Network of Ombudsmen with a view to developing a comprehensive data base and better informing EU citizens about the apportionment of responsibilities between the European Ombudsman, national ombudsmen and Parliament's Committee on Petitions;

16.  Emphasises that Parliament itself must release resources to put in place a similar web portal for its Committee on Petitions to enhance the institution's visibility and transparency in order that it may also contribute to a reduction in the number of inadmissible petitions while at the same time providing guidance and advice to petitioners and improving the efficiency and the effectiveness of the petitions process;

17.  Notes with satisfaction the sustained reduction in critical remarks (33 in 2010, 35 in 2009, 44 in 2008 and 55 in 2007) issued by the Ombudsman; concurs that this is evidence that the EU institutions are taking a more pro-active role in resolving complaints and that the Ombudsman's effectiveness has earned him a degree of legitimacy in the eyes of those institutions;

18.  Congratulates the Ombudsman on the fact that the average time required for completing inquiries is becoming shorter and shorter (approximately nine months in 2009 and 2010); requests that the necessary means are used to reduce it still further in order to be more able to better meet the expectations of EU citizens;

19.  Notes that 65 % of the inquiries opened by the Ombudsman in 2010 concerned the European Commission (219 inquiries); expresses its concern about the strong increase from 56 % in 2009 (191 inquiries), and once more asks the Commissioner, especially the Commissioner responsible for interinstitutional relations and administration, to take steps to improve the present situation significantly and as soon as possible;

20.  Takes note of the Ombudsman's concerns about the relatively high number of unsatisfactory replies by the European Commission to his critical remarks (10 out of 32 replies); shares the Ombudsman's view that there is still major work to be done in persuading officials that a defensive approach to the Ombudsman represents a missed opportunity for their institutions and risks damaging the image of the Union as a whole; calls for the radical improvement of the answering process, including reducing the time taken in generating responses (especially in time-sensitive cases), and producing solution-oriented rather than defensive answers; stresses that European citizens have a right to good administration under the Charter of Fundamental Rights;

21.  Points to the fact that in 2010 by far the most common allegation examined by the Ombudsman was lack of transparency in the EU administration; notes that this allegation arose in 33 % of all closed inquiries and included refusal of information and of access to documents; shares the Ombudsman's frustration that the number of transparency cases has remained consistently high over the past years;

22.  Notes that in 2010 the Ombudsman submitted one special report, which concerned the Commission's refusal to disclose documents and to cooperate with the Ombudsman in a spirit of complete transparency; recalls that the Committee on Petitions' report on the special report was adopted by Parliament on 25 November 2010(3) ; recalls that in the resolution adopted the Commission was urged to give an undertaking to Parliament that it would fulfil its duty of sincere cooperation with the European Ombudsman;

23.  Calls for the launch of an information campaign designed to reassure the staff of the EU institutions as to the Ombudsman's willingness to listen and discuss issues, and to highlight the advantages of intervention by the Ombudsman with a view to bringing the administrations of the EU institutions closer to EU citizens;

24.  Recalls that Regulation (EC) 1049/2001(4) on access to documents from EU institutions has been in force for 10 years; recalls that the basic notion underlying this Regulation is that openness is the rule and secrecy the exception; notes that the institutions are still struggling with this concept; takes the view that EU institutions, agencies, services and bodies must keep this principle in mind when drafting documents and make sure they strike the right balance between the necessary and appropriate degree of transparency and the genuine need for confidentiality;

25.  Recalls that the recast of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 is still ongoing; regrets the lack of progress in the recast procedure; urges the Council and the Commission to be more open to giving access to documents and information to citizens and to the European Parliament;

26.  Encourages the Ombudsman to continue to insist on the fundamental right of access to documents, the proper implementation of the principle of transparency in the decision-making process, a citizen-friendly culture of service and a pro-active attitude by the EU's institutions, agencies and bodies with regard to putting documents into the public domain, which constitutes a basic principle for the transparency and responsibility of the EU institutions; proposes that examples of good practices be publicised among EU citizens in order to counter their negative image of the EU administration, as well as to promote dialogue between the different institutions on problems affecting the quality of their administration;

27.  Agrees with the Ombudsman that a concise statement of public service principles would contribute to a culture of service and would promote citizens' trust in the EU civil service and institutions; looks forward to the Ombudsman's statement of public service principles, on which he is currently consulting his national colleagues and other interested parties;

28.  Proposes that this statement of public service principles be disseminated as widely as possible and made easily accessible to EU citizens, so as to reassure them of the EU's commitment to protecting public services, which are a feature of their day-to-day lives;

29.  Considers, nevertheless, that adopting common binding rules and principles on administrative procedure within the EU's own administration, as already called for by the first European Ombudsman, and the introduction of the service principle in this context would be the best way to ensure a lasting shift in the administrative culture of the EU and expects, therefore, the Commission to make the presentation of a draft regulation to this end on the basis of Article 298 of the TFEU a priority;

30.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution and the report of the Committee on Petitions to the Council, the Commission, the European Ombudsman, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, and to their ombudsmen or similar competent bodies.

(1) OJ C 286 E, 27.11.2009, p. 172.
(2) Adopted on 8 July 2002 and amended by decisions of the Ombudsman of 5 April 2004 and 3 December 2008.
(3) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2010)0436.
(4) OJ L 145, 31.5.2001, p. 43.

Last updated: 8 April 2013Legal notice