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Procedure : 2008/2158(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0358/2008

Texts tabled :

A6-0358/2008

Debates :

PV 23/10/2008 - 4
CRE 23/10/2008 - 4

Votes :

PV 23/10/2008 - 8.8
CRE 23/10/2008 - 8.8
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2008)0524

Texts adopted
WORD 52k
Thursday, 23 October 2008 - Strasbourg Final edition
Annual report on the European Ombudsman's activities in 2007
P6_TA(2008)0524A6-0358/2008

European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2008 on the annual report on the European Ombudsman's activities in 2007 (2008/2158(INI))

The European Parliament ,

–   having regard to the annual report on the European Ombudsman's activities in 2007,

–   having regard to Article 195 of the EC Treaty,

–   having regard to Article 43 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–   having regard to Decision 94/262/ECSC, EC, Euratom of the European Parliament of 9 March 1994 on the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the Ombudsman's duties(1) ,

–   having regard to its resolution of 6 September 2001 amending Article 3 of 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 Commission's communication of 5 October 2005 entitled 'Empowerment to adopt and transmit communications to the European Ombudsman and authorise civil servants to appear before the European Ombudsman' (SEC (2005)1227),

–   having regard to the letter of July 2006 sent by the European Ombudsman to the President of the European Parliament with a view to initiating the procedure for the revision of the Ombudsman's Statute,

–   having regard to its draft decision of 22 April 2008 (3) and its resolution of 18 June 2008 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(4) ,

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

–   having regard to Rule 195(2), second and third sentences, of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on Petitions (A6-0358/2008),

A.   whereas the annual report on the European Ombudsman's activities in 2007 was formally submitted to the President of Parliament on 10 March 2008 and whereas the Ombudsman, Mr Nikiforos Diamandouros, presented the report to the Committee on Petitions in Strasbourg on 19 May 2008,

B.   whereas the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, originally proclaimed in December 2000, was signed on 12 December 2007, and reconfirmed by the Presidents of Parliament, of the Commission and of the Council, and whereas the commitment to a legally binding Charter, contained in the Treaty of Lisbon, which is in the process of ratification, reflects a growing awareness that citizens should be placed at the centre of a transparent, accessible and contactable Europe which is aware of the concerns of its citizens,

C.   whereas Article 41 of the Charter states: '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 Article 43 of the Charter states: '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 and the Court of First Instance acting in their judicial role',

E.   whereas it is essential that the European institutions and bodies make full use of the necessary resources in order to fulfil their obligation to ensure that citizens receive prompt and substantive responses to their enquiries, complaints and petitions,

F.   whereas, although seven years have passed since the adoption of Parliament's above-mentioned resolution of 6 September 2001 approving the Ombudsman's Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, the other main institutions have not yet complied with Parliament's urgent request that they bring their practice into line with the provisions of that code,

G.   whereas about 16% fewer complaints were received in 2007 than in 2006 but the number of admissible complaints increased in both absolute and relative terms from 449 (12% of the total) to 518 (16% of the total) in 2007,

H.   whereas the findings of the 348 completed inquiries, of which 341 were linked to complaints and 7 were own-initiative investigations, show that in 95 cases (corresponding to 25.7% of the complaints investigated) no maladministration could be ascertained,

I.   whereas the year 2007 saw a doubling of the number of cases of maladministration settled by the institution or body itself following a complaint to the Ombudsman (129 cases), which reflects a growing willingness on the part of the institutions and bodies to see complaints to the Ombudsman as an opportunity to put right mistakes that have occurred and to cooperate with the Ombudsman for the benefit of citizens,

J.   whereas 5 cases were closed in 2007 after an amicable resolution had been achieved, and at the end of 2007 31 proposals for amicable resolutions were still under consideration,

K.   whereas in 2007 the Ombudsman began to make wider use of more informal procedures to help resolve problems in a flexible way and will continue to develop this approach in the future, which demonstrates the Ombudsman's and the institutions' readiness to help citizens,

L.   whereas in 2007 the Ombudsman closed 55 inquiries with critical remarks and whereas a critical remark confirms to the complainant that his or her complaint is justified and indicates to the institution or body concerned what it has done wrong, so as to help it avoid maladministration in the future,

M.   whereas eight draft recommendations were made in 2007, seven draft recommendations from 2006 led to a decision in 2007 and one case led to a special report to the European Parliament,

N.   whereas neither the critical remarks contained in decisions closing irremediable cases of maladministration, nor recommendations or special reports by the Ombudsman, have binding effect, as his powers do not extend to directly remedying instances of maladministration but are intended to encourage self-regulation on the part of the European Union's institutions and bodies,

O.   whereas maladministration has been defined as a failure by the institution or other body concerned to comply with rules or principles which are binding upon it, including when these result from a commitment on the part of the institution or body itself which is not directly required by the Treaties or by secondary legislation,

P.   whereas the Ombudsman has set as a priority the need to promote good administration in the EU institutions and bodies and to encourage efforts in this respect which go beyond merely avoiding unlawful behaviour,

Q.   whereas the Ombudsman submitted one special report to the European Parliament in 2007 and whereas submitting a special report to Parliament represents a valuable means by which the Ombudsman can seek the political support of Parliament and its Committee on Petitions in order to bring satisfaction to citizens whose rights have been infringed, as well as promoting the improvement of standards of EU administration,

R.   whereas, since the entry into force of the Treaty of Nice, Parliament has enjoyed the same right as the Member States, the Council and the Commission to bring an action before the Court of Justice of the European Union on grounds of lack of competence, infringement of an essential procedural requirement, infringement of the EC Treaty or of any rule of law relating to its application, or misuse of powers,

S.   whereas the critical comments regarding maladministration voiced by the Ombudsman in the 2007 report (critical remarks, draft recommendations and special report) may serve as a basis for avoiding a repetition of errors and malfunctions in future through the implementation of appropriate measures by the institutions and other bodies of the EU,

T.   whereas the cooperation established by the Ombudsman within the European Network of Ombudsmen has functioned for over ten years as a flexible system for exchanging information and best practice and as a means of directing complainants to the ombudsmen or other similar bodies most able to assist them,

U.   whereas the role of the Ombudsman in protecting EU citizens has evolved in the 12 years since the office was created, thanks to the Ombudsman's independence and Parliament's democratic scrutiny of the transparency of his activities,

V.   whereas the activities of the Ombudsman and of the Committee on Petitions must remain separate and, as a general rule aimed at avoiding conflicts as regards their respective prerogatives, should include reciprocal definitive referral of their respective files,

1.  Approves the annual report for 2007 presented by the European Ombudsman and the form in which it is presented, combining a summary of the year's activities and a thematic analysis of the Ombudsman's decisions and the problems raised at various stages of the procedure; considers, however, that further efforts should be made to improve the tables of statistics, in which the mix of figures and percentages can be confusing;

2.  Calls for all EU institutions and bodies to be given the necessary budgetary and human resources to ensure that citizens receive prompt and substantive responses to their enquiries, complaints and petitions;

3.  Considers that the Ombudsman has continued to exercise his powers in an active and balanced way, both with regard to examining and handling complaints and conducting and concluding enquiries and with regard to maintaining constructive relations with the European Union's institutions and bodies and encouraging citizens to avail themselves of their rights in relation to those institutions and bodies;

4.  Calls on the Ombudsman to continue to pursue his efforts and to promote his activities effectively, transparently and flexibly so that a genuine culture of service to citizens can be built in the EU institutions and bodies;

5.  Considers that the term 'maladministration' should be broadly interpreted so as to include not only administrative acts which infringe rules or principles laid down by the Treaties or by secondary legislation but also, for example, cases where the administrative authorities themselves have assumed certain obligations through, for instance, the adoption of a code of good administrative behaviour or where approved policies or declarations of a political nature have given rise to legitimate and reasonable expectations among citizens;

6.  Supports the Ombudsman's efforts to promote good administration through additional remarks and suggestions to institutions and bodies even when he has not found any instance of maladministration during his inquiries, but nevertheless considers that improvements are needed in light of the objective of developing a citizen-friendly and service-minded culture within the EU's administration;

7.  Regards 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, in collaboration with the ombudsman authorities within each Member State, so that the EU is in closer contact with the citizens of Europe;

8.  Repeats its call, expressed in previous resolutions, for all EU institutions and bodies to adopt a common approach with regard to the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour;

9.  Notes that the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour proposed by the Ombudsman, as approved by Parliament in its above-mentioned resolution of 6 September 2001, covers the staff of all Community institutions and bodies and, unlike the other codes, has been regularly updated and published on the Ombudsman's website;

10.  Stresses the need to further enhance the public profile of the Ombudsman, whose aim is to provide citizens, companies, non-governmental organisations and other entities with information, and considers that high-quality information may help to reduce the number of complaints which do not fall within the Ombudsman's terms of reference; at the same time, calls on the Ombudsman to forward immediately to the competent authorities, by way of the most appropriate network at national and local level those complaints which do not fall within his terms of reference;

11.  Recognises the increase in the absolute number of admissible complaints but considers that the figure in respect of admissible complaints – 16% – remains unsatisfactory; in view of this, recommends that an enhanced information campaign be conducted amongst European citizens designed to raise their awareness of the functions and competence of the European Ombudsman;

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

13.  Calls on the Ombudsman to ensure that the Commission makes proper use of its discretionary powers to initiate infringement proceedings under Article 226 of the EC Treaty or to propose penalties under Article 228 of the EC Treaty, while taking scrupulous care to avoid delays or unjustifiable failure to take prompt action, which are incompatible with the Commission's powers to oversee the application of EU law;

14.  Considers that, if an institution refuses to follow a recommendation contained in a special report by the Ombudsman despite Parliament having approved that recommendation, Parliament could legitimately use its powers to bring an action before the Court of Justice in respect of the act or omission which was the subject of the Ombudsman's recommendation;

15.  Notes that the Ombudsman has presented a special report criticising the Commission for not dealing with a complaint concerning the European Working Time Directive, on which Parliament adopted a resolution on 3 September 2008(5) ;

16.  Considers that, when the Ombudsman and the Committee on Petitions, acting within their respective mandates and competences, investigate overlapping issues, such as, respectively, the manner in which the Commission has conducted infringement proceedings and the alleged infringement itself, they can achieve useful synergy through close cooperation;

17.  Welcomes the relationship between the Ombudsman and the Committee on Petitions within the institutional frameworks as regards the reciprocal respecting of competences and prerogatives;

18.  Recognises the useful contribution made by the European Network of Ombudsmen, in line with the subsidiarity principle, in securing extra-judicial remedies; welcomes the collaboration between the European Ombudsman and ombudsmen and similar bodies at national, regional and local levels in the Member States and urges further strengthening of the exchange of best practice, thereby allowing for the harmonisation of best practices between Member States;

19.  Welcomes the adoption of the Statement of the European Network of Ombudsmen in October 2007 as an important contribution towards making the EU dimension of the work of ombudsmen better known and towards clarifying the service they provide to people who complain about matters within the scope of EU law;

20.  Welcomes the European Ombudsman's initiatives to advertise widely both his own work and the work carried out by national ombudsmen, and recommends that the Ombudsman further pursue his efforts to raise citizens' awareness;

21.  Encourages the Ombudsman to continue to place great emphasis himself on events involving citizens and, hence, potential complainants, since it is clear that the demarcation of responsibilities and decision-making processes between the European, national and regional levels is still too hard to grasp for many citizens and businesses;

22.  Welcomes the enhanced information campaign promoted by the communications strategy adopted by the Ombudsman, which leads to greater awareness of citizens' rights and Community competences, as well as a greater understanding of the Ombudsman's sphere of competence; urges him, however, in the light of the still substantial number of complaints falling outside his terms of reference, to intensify his efforts to provide more comprehensive information about those terms of reference on a more regular basis;

23.  Given that each institution has its own web site enabling complaints, petitions, etc. to be lodged, and given that this frustrates citizens in distinguishing between the various institutions, welcomes the development of an interactive manual designed to assist citizens in identifying the most suitable forum for resolving their problems;

24.  In order to reduce the number of inadmissible complaints filed with the European Ombudsman, suggests that this idea be developed further and that a common web site of the European institutions be put in place to help citizens and refer them directly to the institution competent to handle their complaint;

25.  Proposes that the Ombudsman take measures to reduce the number of complaints in such cases where no action is possible;

26.  Calls on the European Ombudsman to commit himself to directly forwarding, after obtaining the consent of the petitioner concerned, each complaint that falls within the competence of a national or regional ombudsman;

27.  Proposes, with a view to the provision of a better and more efficient service to citizens, that the Ombudsman continue to bring to their knowledge the internal procedures and deadlines for handling complaints, as well as the criteria used to make decisions at the different stages of the examination of a complaint;

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

(1) OJ L 113, 4.5.1994, p. 15.
(2) OJ C 72 E, 21.3.2002, p. 336.
(3) Texts adopted, P6_TA(2008)0129.
(4) Texts adopted, P6_TA(2008)0301.
(5) Texts adopted, P6_TA(2008)0398.

Last updated: 26 August 2009Legal notice