REPORT on the Special Report by the European Ombudsman following the draft recommendation to the Council of the European Union in complaint 1487/2005/GG
14.10.2008 - (2008/2072(INI))
Committee on Petitions
Rapporteur: Rainer Wieland
MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION
on the Special Report by the European Ombudsman following the draft recommendation to the Council of the European Union in complaint 1487/2005/GG
The European Parliament,
– having regard to the Special Report from the European Ombudsman to the European Parliament,
– having regard to Article 195(1), second subparagraph, of the EC Treaty,
– having regard to the 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, particularly Article 3(7) thereof,
– having regard to the studies carried out by the European Commission which were published in Special Eurobarometer Nos 237 and 243 on the dissemination of languages in the European Union,
– having regard to Rule 195(2), first sentence, of its Rules of Procedure,
– having regard to Article 3(5) of the Statute of the Ombudsman, which directs the Ombudsman to seek, as far as possible, a solution with the institution concerned in order to eliminate the instance of maladministration and satisfy the complainant,
– having regard to Written Declaration 48/2008 by Anna Záborská, Bernd Posselt, Francis Wurtz, Zita Gurmai and Marian Harkin on multilingualism, which has so far gathered 276 signatories,
– having regard to Rule 195(2), first sentence, of its Rules of Procedure,
– having regard to the report of the Committee on Petitions (A6‑0395/2008),
A. whereas improved transparency, the promotion of multilingualism and the provision of accurate information to the public are objectives which are given the highest priority by the EU and its institutions,
B. whereas ease of access to information for all citizens of the EU is an important prerequisite for, and a basic element of, the general principles of democratic legitimacy and transparency,
C. wishing to enable as many citizens as possible to have direct access to information on the activities of the EU institutions in all their formations,
D. whereas this wish must be reconciled with the logistical challenge posed by a large number of official EU languages,
E. whereas the internet is an increasingly important means of obtaining information and must, accordingly, be used by the European Union in its efforts to achieve transparency and disseminate information,
1. Endorses the conclusions of the Ombudsman, namely that:
(a) the Council, like every EU institution, is, in the first instance, itself responsible for the websites of its presidency and the languages used thereon;
(b) the practices followed in the Council cannot be pursued in a way which is completely isolated from uniform implementation by the institutions and their formations;
(c) the information on these websites should, ideally, be made available in good time in all official languages of the Community;
(d) if the number of languages is to be limited, the choice of the languages to be used must be based on criteria of objectivity, reasonableness, transparency and manageability;
(e) the Council’s refusal to address the substance of the complainant’s request constitutes an instance of maladministration;
2. Is astonished to note, in this regard, that the Council does not consider itself empowered to address this question, even though it is one which affects all Member States and the Council could make recommendations to all future presidencies;
3. Notes with regret that the Council, unlike other institutions such as the Commission and Parliament, which have significantly improved the number of languages available in their communication with citizens, has so far completely avoided addressing in a substantive way the question of the language options of the websites of its presidencies;
4. Invites the Council to conduct a comprehensive review of the question of expanding the language options of the websites of its presidencies, irrespective of the question of responsibility or authority for these websites, so as to ensure that the entire population of the European Union has easy and direct access to information on its activities; calls on the Council to inform Parliament of the results of its deliberations;
5. Stresses that any reduction of the language options which may prove necessary must be undertaken on the basis of objective and sufficiently justified criteria, that it must be announced publicly and that only the language of the incumbent presidency may have priority until the end of such presidency;
6. Supports the recommendation of the Ombudsman to the Council that it examine the complainant’s request that the websites of the Council presidencies be also made available in German;
7. Welcomes the fact that, in contrast to the practice of past presidencies, whereby websites were only available in English, French and the language of the incumbent presidency, the French Council Presidency publishes its official website in the most widely spoken languages of the European Union (English, German, French, Italian and Spanish);
8. Addresses itself to all future Council presidencies, in the hope that they will make their websites available in as many languages as possible and, in the event of a restriction on the number of languages, will use the most widely spoken official languages according to an order of priority;
9. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the European Ombudsman and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.
-  OJ L 113, 4.5.1994, p. 15.
In 2004, the complainant (an association for the defence of the German language) in complaint 1487/2005/GG wrote to the Dutch and the Luxembourg governments in order to ask them to offer the internet presentations they were to provide when holding the Presidency not only in English and French but also in German.
The complainant pointed out that more EU citizens had German as their mother-tongue than any other language and that, after the accession of the new Member States, German would rank second if one added the number of EU citizens speaking a language as their mother-tongue or as a foreign language. It stressed that, next to English, German was thus the language understood by most EU citizens.
It was further submitted that communications by EU institutions that are mainly addressed to the European public should be accessible to as many EU citizens as possible. Where the number of languages used is limited, this choice should be based on the demographic weight of these languages.
In his investigating of the complaint the Ombudsman pointed out, among other things, that it is essential that documents directed to persons outside the Community institutions should be available in as many languages as possible. and that one of the most important means of providing information to the public in modern times is the internet.
Given that the Presidency is part of the Council, the same standards should in principle apply to any public websites maintained by the Presidency. These websites provide information about the work of the Presidency, in the capacity assigned to it by Community law and the information they contain is of interest to the public and should therefore be made available as widely and as well as possible.
Furthermore, if the number of languages for the presentation of the Presidency's websites is to be limited, the choice of the languages to be used should be based on objective and reasonable considerations.
The Ombudsman's conclusion was that the Council's failure to consider the substance of the complainant's request that the websites of the Presidency should also be offered in German, constitutes maladministration.
Your rapporteur endorses this conclusion as well as the other conclusions the Ombudsman draws in his special report. He considers furthermore that transparency and informing the public are objectives which should be given the highest priority by the EU and its institutions. Access to information for as many citizens as possible is an important prerequisite for, and a basic element of, the general principle of democratic legitimacy.
Your rapporteur also endorses the recommendation of the Ombudsman to the Council to examine the complainant's request that the websites of the Council presidencies also be available in German.
Furthermore, he recommends that future Council presidencies should make their websites available in as many languages as possible and that, in the event of a restriction on the number of languages, they should use the most widely spoken official languages according to an objective order of priority.
RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE
Result of final vote
Members present for the final vote
Sir Robert Atkins, Inés Ayala Sender, Victor Boştinaru, Simon Busuttil, Michael Cashman, Alexandra Dobolyi, Carlos José Iturgaiz Angulo, Marcin Libicki, Manolis Mavrommatis, Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou, Nicolae Vlad Popa, Rainer Wieland
Substitute(s) present for the final vote
Alexander Alvaro, Marie-Hélène Descamps, Dushana Zdravkova