National Ombudsmen in the EU

23-09-2010

All but one EU Member State has a national Ombudsman as part of the checks and balances of their constitution. Whilst their mandates, powers and jurisdictions vary, along with their titles, each can play an important role as an independent defender of citizens’ rights. Although the Ombudsman originated in Sweden in the nineteenth century, it is in the second half of the twentieth that the institution was adopted internationally. The growth of public administrations after 1945 is seen as the initial catalyst, with the adoption of human rights conventions in new democracies precipitating a second wave of new Ombudsmen more recently. Recent studies suggest three models of Ombudsman exist. Those without coercive powers must rely on both the public nature of their recommendations and their own moral authority. However, those with stronger powers particularly with regards to the judiciary, face criticism for jeopardising its independence. In newer institutions, human rights have become a central concern. In Europe, both the Council of Europe and, in more recent times, the EU have taken measures to support and promote Ombudsman institutions and allow exchanges of good practice.  

All but one EU Member State has a national Ombudsman as part of the checks and balances of their constitution. Whilst their mandates, powers and jurisdictions vary, along with their titles, each can play an important role as an independent defender of citizens’ rights. Although the Ombudsman originated in Sweden in the nineteenth century, it is in the second half of the twentieth that the institution was adopted internationally. The growth of public administrations after 1945 is seen as the initial catalyst, with the adoption of human rights conventions in new democracies precipitating a second wave of new Ombudsmen more recently. Recent studies suggest three models of Ombudsman exist. Those without coercive powers must rely on both the public nature of their recommendations and their own moral authority. However, those with stronger powers particularly with regards to the judiciary, face criticism for jeopardising its independence. In newer institutions, human rights have become a central concern. In Europe, both the Council of Europe and, in more recent times, the EU have taken measures to support and promote Ombudsman institutions and allow exchanges of good practice.