– 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(2),
– 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(3),
– 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 theEuropean 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 Ombudsmanshould be present to comment on the report and take part in the discussion; urges theadministrations 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 thoseinstitutions;
18. Congratulates the Ombudsman on the fact thatthe average time required for completing inquiries is becoming shorter and shorter (approximatelynine 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’ report4 on the special report was adopted by Parliament on 27 October 2010; 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 1049/2001 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 appropriatedegree 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.
Adopted on 8 July 2002 and amended by decisions of the Ombudsman of 5 April 2004 and 3 December 2008.
On 10 May 2011 the European Ombudsman presented his Annual Report 2010 to Jerzy Buzek, the President of the European Parliament. On 23 May 2011 he presented his report in the meeting of Parliament's Committee on Petitions, the committee responsible for relations with his institution.
Mr Nikiforos Diamandouros, the European Ombudsman, was re-elected by the European Parliament in its plenary Strasbourg session on 20 January 2010 and he took the solemn oath of office before the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg on 25 October 2010.
The legal base for the European Ombudsman's mandate is Article 228 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and he is empowered to receive complaints concerning instances of maladministration in the activities of European Union institutions(1). The right to complain to the European Ombudsman is provided for in Article 24 of the TFEU and in Article 43 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty the Ombudsman's mandate was broadened to include possible maladministration in the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).
The Ombudsman's definition of maladministration, which is endorsed by the European Parliament and the European Commission, is that: "Maladministration occurs when a public body fails to act in accordance with a rule or principle which is binding upon it". For the institutions this implies respect for the rule of law, for the principles of good administration and for fundamental rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights includes the right to good administration as a fundamental right for EU citizens (Article 41) and the Charter is binding upon the administrations of EU institutions.
On 27 September 2010 the institution of the European Ombudsman's celebrated its 15th anniversary. In these fifteen years the institution has dealt with more than 36 000 complaints and completed more than 3 800 inquiries into possible maladministration. The result of processing so many complaints is that the institution has accumulated a considerable body of experience which gives the Ombudsman a clear insight into trends in maladministration, systemic problems and structural weaknesses in the administrations of EU institutions. This enables him to provide redress, to help raise the quality of EU administrations and to help ensure that good practices are being spread and applied.
The Ombudsman's Annual Report 2010 has a new look and in 2010 both the Ombudsman and the European Network of Ombudsmen have taken on a new logo. Based on feedback from readers and to reflect the institution's new visual identity, while at the same time aiming to make the best possible use of resources, the Ombudsman's revamped annual report no longer contains the traditional Introduction and Executive Summary but now comes with a separate Overview in which the Ombudsman draws attention to the highlights of the reporting year.
In 2010 the Ombudsman registered 2 667 complaints from citizens, companies, associations, NGOs and regional offices (3 098 in 2009) and he processed a total number of 2 727. Of these complaints 744 (27%) were within his mandate. Almost 58% of the complaints received in 2010 were submitted using the internet. The Ombudsman completed 326 inquiries on the basis of complaints and launched twelve own-initiative inquiries.
When possible the Ombudsman tries to achieve a positive outcome by working towards a friendly solution that is satisfactory to both the complainant and the institution concerned. In 2010 friendly solutions were found in 179 cases. If however a friendly solution cannot be reached the Ombudsman either closes the case with a critical remark or a he makes a draft recommendation.
A critical remark is made when it is no longer possible for the institution to eliminate the instance of maladministration, the maladministration has no general implications or no follow-up action by the Ombudsman is required. The Ombudsman can also make a critical remark when he considers that a draft recommendation would not be effective or in cases where the institution concerned does not accept a draft recommendation but the instance of maladministration does not justify drawing up a special report for Parliament. A critical remark nevertheless functions as confirmation for the complainant that his complaint was justified and it clearly indicates to the institution concerned where it has acted wrongly, so that it can avoid such action in the future. In 2010 the Ombudsman made critical remarks to the institutions in only 33 cases, down from 35 in 2009 and 44 in 2008. Still he considers there is room for improvement.
Further remarks, an instrument the Ombudsman uses when in dealing with a case he identifies an opportunity to enhance the quality of the administration, were made in 14 cases (28 in 2009). Further remarks by the Ombudsman are not intended to criticise the institution concerned but should be taken as guidance and advice on how the institution could improve the quality of its service.
To inform the public and to ensure that the institutions learn from their mistakes the Ombudsman each year publishes on his website a study on the institutions' follow-up to his critical and further remarks and he also invites the institutions to react. The latest study, covering 2009, showed that the overall rate of satisfactory follow-up was 81% (94% in the case of further remarks and 70% for the critical remarks). Although the overall rate is encouraging the rate for critical remarks in particular leaves room for improvement.
The Ombudsman identified instances of maladministration in 12% of cases closed (40) in 2010. He obtained a positive outcome for the complainant in seven cases by making draft recommendations that were accepted. The Ombudsman issued 16 new draft recommendations in 2010.
A draft recommendation is issued in cases where it is possible for the institution concerned to eliminate an instance of maladministration or in cases where the maladministration is serious or has general implications. In the event of a draft recommendation the institution concerned is obliged under the Treaty to send a detailed opinion to the Ombudsman within three months.
If an EU institution fails to respond satisfactorily to a draft recommendation the Ombudsman can draw up and send a special report for the European Parliament. A special report is the Ombudsman's instrument of last resort and constitutes the last step the Ombudsman takes in dealing with a complaint case. From this point it is for the Parliament to decide on any further steps, such as drawing up a resolution. Special reports are submitted to the Committee on Petitions, which is the Committee responsible for the relations with the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman submitted one special report to Parliament in 2010, following an inquiry into a complaint about access to documents relating to CO2 emissions from cars. The special report pointed out that the Commission failed to reply to a draft recommendation for almost 15 months, although the deadline established by the Treaty is three months. The Commission also failed to implement an undertaking it had made to the Ombudsman. These failures constituted a breach of the Commission's duty of sincere co-operation with the Ombudsman. The Committee on Petitions drafted a report(2) on the Ombudsman's special report (rapporteur: Chrysoula Paliadeli, Vice-Chair), which was adopted by Parliament on 27 October 2010.
As regards the themes of complaints the Ombudsman's Annual Report public access to documents of EU institutions stands out clearly and triggered a large amount of complaints. 33% of all inquiries closed in 2010 concerned access to documents.
Institutions are bound by the Treaty to conduct their work as openly as possible in order to promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society. Article 15(3) TFEU and Article 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights provide for a right of access to documents of the institutions. This right is implemented in Regulation 1049/2001.
The Ombudsman has always been a staunch defender of the right of access to EU documents and he has on various occasions made important contributions to the discussion concerning the review of Regulation 1049/2001. In 2010 the Ombudsman completed 22 inquiries into complaints concerning the application of Regulation 1049/2001. In fact the special report sent to the Parliament in 2010 resulted from a case that started off with a complaint on refusal to give access to documents.
The Ombudsman also has the right to review the substance of the analyses and conclusions reached by the Commission when investigating infringement complaints. He may check for example whether they are reasonable, well argued and explained fully and clearly to complainants.
In 70% of all cases processed in 2010 the Ombudsman was able to help complainants by opening an inquiry himself, by transferring the complaint to a competent EU or national body or by advising the complainant where to turn. Complaints which are not within the Ombudsman's mandate can in many cases best be handled by a national or a regional ombudsman. In 2010 1 435 complaints were within the mandate of a member of the European Network of Ombudsmen of which the Committee on Petitions is a full member. In 2010 the Ombudsman transferred 145 complaints to the Committee on Petitions, while other complaints (601) were transferred to the Commission (176) and other institutions and bodies, including SOLVIT.
In the Annual Report 2010 special attention is drawn to the new strategy the Ombudsman and his staff have formulated for his mandate 2009-2014. The objectives are:
• To listen to stakeholders by obtaining feedback from complainants, broadening and deepening contacts with the EU institutions and civil society, and identifying best practices.
• To deliver results faster by reducing the time needed to close inquiries and by developing simplified procedures to promote rapid resolutions of complaints.
• To impact positively on EU institutions' administrative culture by helping to improve administrative practices and focusing on systemic problems.
• To provide timely and useful information to stakeholders and the public by communicating better.
• To rethink how resources are being used and applying the highest standards of administration in the institution.
The Ombudsman institution, which currently has an establishment plan of 64 posts (20 officials and 44 temporary agents) and a budget of around 9 million euros, will use this new strategy to underpin and guide its actions, which are aimed at ensuring that EU citizens enjoy their rights fully and at enhancing the quality of the EU administration.
Report on the Special Report by the European Ombudsman following his draft recommendation to the European Commission in complaint 676/2008RT (2010/2086(INI)). Adopted text: A7-0293/2010
RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE
Result of final vote
Members present for the final vote
Margrete Auken, Elena Băsescu, Heinz K. Becker, Victor Boştinaru, Peter Jahr, Lena Kolarska-Bobińska, Erminia Mazzoni, Edward McMillan-Scott, Mariya Nedelcheva, Chrysoula Paliadeli, Nikolaos Salavrakos, Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa, Angelika Werthmann, Rainer Wieland, Tatjana Ždanoka