REPORT on the annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman 2011

1.10.2012 - (2012/2049(INI))

Committee on Petitions
Rapporteur: Erminia Mazzoni
PR_INI_AnnOmbud

Procedure : 2012/2049(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected :  
A7-0297/2012

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on the annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman 2011

(2012/2049(INI))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman 2011,

–   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 the European Parliament 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 European 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 (A7-0297/2012),

A. whereas the annual report on the European Ombudsman’s activities in 2011 was formally submitted to the President of Parliament on 22 May 2012, and whereas the Ombudsman, Mr Nikiforos Diamandouros, presented the report to the Committee on Petitions in Brussels on 19 June 2012;

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

C. whereas Article 228 TFEU empowers the European Ombudsman to receive complaints concerning instances of maladministration in the activities of EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, with the exception of the Court of Justice of the European Union acting in its judicial role;

D. whereas, pursuant to Article 298 TFEU the EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies ‘shall have the support of an open, efficient and independent European administration’, and whereas the same article provides for the adoption, to that end, of specific secondary legislation, in the form of regulations, applicable to all areas of EU administration;

E.  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’;

F.  whereas maladministration occurs not only when a public body fails to act in accordance with a rule or principle that is binding upon it, and whereas the principles of good administration require the EU institutions to be service-minded and to ensure that members of the public are properly treated and enjoy their rights fully;

G. whereas this definition does not limit maladministration to cases where the rule or principle that is being violated is legally binding; whereas the principles of good administration go further than the law, requiring the EU institutions not only to respect their legal obligations, but also to be service-minded and to ensure that members of the public are properly treated and enjoy their rights fully;

H. whereas in 2011 the Ombudsman received 2 510 complaints (2 667 in 2010), opened 396 inquiries (335 in 2010) and completed 318 inquiries (326 in 2010); whereas of the total of 2 544 complaints processed by the Ombudsman in 2011, 698 (27 %) were within his mandate (744 in 2010);

I.   whereas 1 321 complaints received were within the competence of a member of the European Network of Ombudsmen; whereas this Network is composed of national and regional ombudsmen; whereas Parliament’s Committee on Petitions is a full member of the Network of European Ombudsmen;

J.   whereas in 2011 the Ombudsman transferred 59 complaints to the Committee on Petitions; whereas 147 complainants were referred to the Commission and 591 to other institutions and bodies, including SOLVIT and Your Europe Advice, as well as to specialised ombudsmen or other complaint-handling bodies in the Member States;

K. whereas almost 61 % of the complaints received in 2011 were submitted using the internet; whereas more than half of the internet submissions (53 %) were received through the electronic complaints form on the Ombudsman’s website;

L.  whereas the significantly reduced number of requests for information over the last few years demonstrate the success of the Ombudsman’s interactive guide, which has been available on his website since January 2009;

M. whereas the number of complaints outside the Ombudsman’s mandate fell to 1 846 in 2011, which is the lowest level recorded since 2003;

N. whereas, traditionally, the largest number of complaints were submitted by German and Spanish complainants; whereas in 2011 Spain moved to the top position, followed by Germany, Poland and Belgium; whereas relative to the size of their populations most complaints came from Luxembourg, Cyprus, Belgium, Malta and Slovenia;

O. whereas the Ombudsman opened a total of 396 inquiries, of which 382 were based on complaints and 14 were opened on his own initiative; whereas the number of enquiries opened in 2011 was the highest ever;

P.  whereas most inquiries concerned the Commission (231), followed by EPSO (42); whereas the number of inquiries opened concerning Parliament dropped by more than half compared with 2010; whereas the number of inquiries concerning the Council rose by one third;

Q. whereas the Ombudsman closed 318 inquiries in 2011; whereas most of these inquiries (66 %) were closed within one year, with one third closed within three months; whereas the average length of inquiries was 10 months;

R.  whereas in 64 cases the Ombudsman found no maladministration; whereas a finding of no maladministration is not a negative outcome as the complainant can benefit from a full explanation from the institution concerned, and the outcome serves as evidence that the institution acted in conformity with the principles of good administration;

S.  whereas in 84 of the cases closed a positive outcome was reached, with the institution concerned accepting a friendly solution or settling the matter; whereas the Ombudsman endeavours to achieve a friendly solution whenever possible; whereas the cooperation of the EU institutions is essential to the achievement of a friendly solution;

T.  whereas in 47 cases the Ombudsman found maladministration, and in 13 cases where maladministration was found the institution concerned either fully or partially accepted a draft recommendation;

U. whereas 35 cases were closed with a critical remark, and 39 were closed with further remarks intended to help the institutions concerned improve the quality of the administration of the institutions concerned;

V. whereas the Ombudsman annually publicises his findings on the institutions’ follow-up to critical and further remarks;

W. whereas the overall rate of satisfactory follow-up to critical and further remarks in 2010 was 78 %; whereas the follow-up to further remarks was satisfactory in 95 % of cases, while the follow-up to critical remarks was significantly lower at 68 %;

X. whereas in 2011 the Ombudsman issued 25 draft recommendations, and closed 13 cases when the institution concerned accepted a draft recommendation, either fully or in part;

Y. whereas in 2011 the Ombudsman did not submit any special reports to Parliament;

Z.  whereas the Ombudsman’s Budget is an independent section of the budget of the European Union, divided into three titles: Title 1 concerning salaries, allowances, and other expenditure related to staff; Title 2 covering buildings, furniture, equipment, and miscellaneous operating expenditure; Title 3 concerning the expenditure resulting from general functions carried out by the institution;

1.  Approves the annual report for 2011 presented by the European Ombudsman;

2.  Notes that in 2011 the Ombudsman helped more than 22 000 citizens, of whom 2 510 submitted complaints, 1 284 requested information and 18 274 obtained advice through the interactive guide on the Ombudsman’s website;

3.  Notes the fact that in recent years the total number of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman has gradually decreased, in particular the number of complaints falling outside his mandate; is following this phenomenon with interest in order to assess whether there is a direct link between this decrease and the introduction of the interactive guide;

4.  Notes that in over 65 % of the complaints dealt with by the Ombudsman, he was able either to open an inquiry or to refer the complainant to a competent body, such as a member of the European Network of Ombudsmen, which includes Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, the Commission or another complaint-handling body (e.g. SOLVIT); notes that in 2011 the Committee on Petitions received 59 complaints from the Ombudsman;

5.  Notes that the main types of alleged maladministration investigated by the Ombudsman in 2011 concerned issues of lawfulness (28 % of inquiries), requests for information (16.2 %), fairness (13.6 %), grounds for decisions and possibilities for appeal (8.1 %), reasonable time limits for taking decisions (7.3 %), requests for public access to documents (7.1 %), absence of discrimination (86.8 %) and the obligation to reply to letters in the language of citizens and to indicate the competent official (5.8 %);

6.  Notes that the majority of inquiries opened by the Ombudsman in 2011 concerned the Commission (231), with EPSO in second position (42); considers that, since the Commission is the institution whose decisions have direct impact on citizens, it is logical that it should be the main object of complaints;

7.  Is pleased to note that the number of inquiries opened by the Ombudsman with regard to Parliament dropped by more than half compared with 2010; notes that the Ombudsman opened one third more inquiries concerning the Council of the EU;

8.  Notes that in 2011 the Ombudsman modified his procedures in order to make them more citizen-friendly, and introduced a new type of inquiry – a ‘clarificatory inquiry’ –which enables complainants to clarify their complaint if the Ombudsman, at first sight, is not convinced that there are grounds to ask an institution for its opinion on a case;

9.  Points out that the Ombudsman now actively invites complainants to make observations when they are dissatisfied with an institution’s reply, whereas previously complainants had to make a new complaint if they were not satisfied with the substance of a reply;

10. Is pleased that this new approach resulted in the Ombudsman closing fewer cases as ‘settled by the institution’ and closing a higher number of cases with a finding of ‘no maladministration’ or ‘no further inquiries justified’;

11. Notes that the Ombudsman also reviewed the treatment of complaints falling outside his mandate, which are now dealt with by the Registry department at the Ombudsman’s office, which ensures that complainants are informed as rapidly as possible that the Ombudsman cannot deal with their complaints and that they are advised who to turn to;

12. Points out that a 2011 special Eurobarometer report on citizens’ rights and the performance of the EU administration[4] showed that citizens attach great value to their right to complain to the European Ombudsman and that only their right to move and reside freely in the Union, and their right to good administration, were more important in their view;

13. Commends the Ombudsman for publishing a booklet entitled Problems with the EU? Who can help you, which contains comprehensive information on problem-solving mechanisms for citizens who face problems with the EU, and for making this publication available also in audio and large-print format;

14. Highlights the fact that, despite some progress in recent years, the proportion of processed complaints which actually fell within the Ombudsman’s remit in 2011 was once again relatively low (approximately 27 %), and that consideration should therefore be given to more comprehensive and proactive public awareness-raising – particularly in close cooperation with national and regional ombudsmen, Parliament and the Commission – about the Ombudsman’s sphere of responsibility;

15. Agrees with the Ombudsman that a straightforward and concise statement of the fundamental values that EU civil servants’ behaviour should reflect can effectively promote citizens’ trust in the European civil service and the EU institutions it serves;

16. Endorses the Ombudsman’s view that an institution in which a culture of service is embedded does not regard complaints as a threat, but as an opportunity to communicate more effectively and, if a mistake has been made, to put matters right and learn lessons for the future;

17. Recalls that the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 41) includes the right to good administration as a fundamental right of Union citizenship;

18. Calls on all European Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies to act in accordance with the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, adopted by Parliament in its resolution of 6 September 2001[5];

19.Welcomes the Ombudsman’s sustained and constructive efforts, through the production of relevant publications, for example, to facilitate the drafting of a regulation on the European Union’s general administrative procedures; stresses that such legislation, which should provide for legally binding minimum quality standards and procedural guarantees in all spheres of direct EU administration, could be based on Article 298 TFEU and that the Ombudsman ought to be closely consulted on its actual drafting;

20. Endorses the Ombudsman’s view that the principles of good administration go further than the law and require the EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies not only to respect their legal obligations, but also to be service-minded and to ensure that members of the public are properly treated and enjoy their rights fully;

21. Commends the Ombudsman for having published and distributed to staff in all EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies The European Ombudsmans Guide to complaints, with a view to encouraging the EU administration to improve its performance by deepening its commitment to the principles of a culture of service to citizens;

22. Welcomes the Ombudsman’s cooperation with the European Network of Ombudsmen and asks that such cooperation be directed inter alia to publicising the European Citizens’ Initiative as a new tool enabling citizens to be involved directly in the process of preparing EU legislation and ensuring that this instrument is not too cumbersome for citizens in terms of technical requirements;

23. Recalls that the Eighth National Seminar of the Network of European Ombudsmen was held in Copenhagen in October 2011; recalls that its Committee on Petitions is a full member of the Network and that the Committee was represented at the Seminar; recalls that at the Seminar the members of the Network agreed to find ways better to inform citizens in Europe of their rights;

24. Recalls that at the Seminar the Ombudsman presented a draft text on public service principles for EU civil servants wherein he identified five such principles, namely commitment to the EU and its citizens, integrity, objectivity, respect for others and transparency; notes that the Ombudsman organised a public consultation on these principles and that the final version of the text was published on 19 June 2012;

25.Notes with satisfaction that the Ombudsman has exercised his powers in an active and balanced way, in a spirit of critical consensus and close cooperation with the other EU bodies, during the reporting period;

26.Insists that the Ombudsman continue to ensure the best possible use of resources, avoiding unnecessary duplication of staff and cooperating with other existing EU institutions in order to secure efficiency savings for the EU budget;

27. Instructs its President to forward this resolution and the report of the Committee on Petitions to the Council, the Commission, the European Ombudsman and 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]  OJ L 113, 4.5.1994, p. 15.
  • [3]  Adopted on 8 July 2002 and amended by decisions of the Ombudsman of 5 April 2004 and 3 December 2008.
  • [4]  http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/press/statistics.faces
  • [5]  OJ C 72 E, 21.3.2002, p.331.

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

On 22 May 2012 the European Ombudsman presented his Annual Report 2011 to Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament. On 19 June 2012 he presented his report in the meeting of Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, the committee responsible for relations with his institution.

The legal base for the European Ombudsman’s mandate is Article 228 TFEU, which empowers the Ombudsman to receive complaints concerning maladministration in the activities of Union institutions, bodies, offices, and agencies, with the exception of the Court of Justice of the European Union acting in its judicial role.

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).

Complaints against public authorities of the Member States are not within the European Ombudsman’s mandate, even if they concern matters falling within the scope of EU law. Many such complaints are within the mandate of national and regional ombudsmen in the European Network of Ombudsmen. The Committee on Petitions is a full member of the Network.

On 6 September 2001, the European Parliament approved the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, which EU institutions, their administrations, and their officials should respect in their relations with the public. The Code takes account of the principles of European administrative law contained in the case-law of the European courts and draws inspiration from national laws.

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). The Charter is binding upon the administrations of EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.

The Ombudsman’s definition of maladministration, which is endorsed by the European Parliament and the European Commission, is: ‘Maladministration occurs when a public body fails to act in accordance with a rule or principle which is binding upon it’.

This definition does not however limit maladministration to cases where the rule or principle that is being violated is legally binding. The principles of good administration go further than the law, requiring the EU institutions not only to respect their legal obligations, but also to be service-minded and to ensure that members of the public are properly treated, and enjoy their rights fully.

Thus while illegality in matters within the Ombudsman’s mandate necessarily implies maladministration, maladministration does not automatically entail illegality. The Ombudsman’s findings of maladministration do not therefore automatically imply that there is illegal behaviour.

However, the Ombudsman considers that the political work of the European Parliament does not raise issues of possible maladministration. Complaints against decisions of committees of Parliament, such as the Committee on Petitions, are, therefore, outside the Ombudsman’s mandate.

Complaints and inquiries

In 2011 the Ombudsman registered 2 510 complaints compared to 2 667 in 2010. Out of the total of 2 544 complaints processed 698 complaints (27%) were inside the Ombudsman’s mandate.

Almost 61% of the complaints received in 2011 were submitted using the Internet. A large proportion of these (53%) was received through the electronic complaint form which is available on the Ombudsman’s website in the 23 official EU languages.

The significant reduction in requests for information received over the last few years (1 000 in 2010, 1 850 in 2009, 4 300 in 2008, and 4 100 in 2007) demonstrates the success of the Ombudsman’s interactive guide which is available on his website. It enables interested parties to obtain information without having to submit a request.

The Ombudsman opened 382 inquiries on the basis of complaints, and launched 14 additional inquiries on his own initiative (323 and 12, respectively, in 2010).

The number of complaints inside the Ombudsman’s mandate has steadily risen over the past nine years. From a low of 603 in 2003, it peaked at 930 in 2004, averaged between 800 and 900 between 2005 and 2008, and has dropped slightly since then.

The number of complaints outside the Ombudsman’s mandate fell to 1 846 in 2011, the lowest figure recorded since 2003. The Ombudsman endeavours to further reduce the number of complaints outside the mandate. He does so by providing clear information about what he can and cannot do, and by helping guide complainants to the right address.

In 609 cases, the Ombudsman transferred the complaint to a member of the European Network of Ombudsmen or advised the complainant to contact a member of the Network. Accordingly, 550 complaints were transferred to a national or regional ombudsman or similar body, while 59 were transferred to the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions.

In some cases, the Ombudsman may consider it appropriate to transfer the complaint to the European Commission, to SOLVIT, or to Your Europe Advice. SOLVIT is a network set up by the Commission to help people who face obstacles when trying to exercise their rights in the Union’s internal market. Your Europe Advice is another EU-wide network that the Commission set up to help and advise citizens on their life, work, and travel in the EU.

In 2011, the Ombudsman referred 147 complainants to the Commission and 591 to other institutions and bodies, including SOLVIT and Your Europe Advice, as well as to specialised ombudsmen or complaint-handling bodies in the Member States. In over 51% of all cases that the Ombudsman processed in 2011, he either advised the complainant or transferred the case.

In 2011 the Ombudsman modified his procedures to make them more citizen-friendly. This explains why a higher number of inquiries than in 2010 was opened and why it took him slightly longer, on average, to complete inquiries in 2011. The modification also meant that the Ombudsman closed fewer cases as ‘settled by the institution’ than in 2010, while he closed a greater number of cases with a finding of ‘no further inquiries justified’.

Out of the 698 complaints falling within the mandate, 198 were inadmissible, while, in a further 118, which were admissible, the Ombudsman found no grounds for opening an inquiry.

Most inquiries which the Ombudsman opened in 2011 concerned the European Commission (58%). Since the Commission is the main EU institution whose decisions have a direct impact on citizens, it is logical that it should be the main object of citizens’ complaints. The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) was in second position with 42 (35 in 2010).

The number of inquiries that the Ombudsman opened concerning the European Parliament dropped by more than half compared to 2010. On the other hand, he opened one third more inquiries concerning the Council of the EU than in the previous year, while the number of those relating to the Court of Justice of the EU remained stable. Thirty-five other EU institutions, bodies, offices, and agencies were the subject of a further 101 inquiries.

The main types of alleged maladministration which the Ombudsman investigated in 2011 concerned lawfulness (28%), requests for information (16.2%), fairness (13.6%), stating the grounds of decisions and the possibilities of appeal (8.1%), reasonable time limits for taking decisions (7.3%), requests for public access to documents (7.1%), absence of discrimination (6.8%), as well as replying to letters in the language of citizens and indicating the competent official (5.8%).

In 2011 the Ombudsman closed 318 inquiries, 310 on the basis of complaints and 8 on his own initiative. Individual citizens submitted 82% of complaints leading to inquiries (253), whereas companies, associations, and other legal persons submitted 18% (57).

Most of the inquiries that the Ombudsman closed in 2011 were completed within one year (66%). He closed over a third (36%) within three months. He completed over 80% of inquiries within 18 months. The average length of inquiry was ten months (9 months in 2010).

In 2011, the Ombudsman closed 64 cases in which he found no maladministration. A finding of no maladministration is not necessarily a negative outcome for the complainant, who benefits from receiving a full explanation from the institution concerned with regard to what it has done. The complainant also benefits from the Ombudsman’s independent analysis of the case. At the same time such a finding serves as evidence that the institution has acted in conformity with the principles of good administration.

Even when the Ombudsman finds no maladministration or concludes that there are no grounds to continue his inquiry, he may issue a further remark if he identifies an opportunity to enhance the quality of the administration of the institution. A further remark should not be understood as implying criticism of the institution concerned. Rather, its aim is to advise the institution on how it can improve a particular practice, in order to enhance the quality of service it provides to citizens. The Ombudsman made further remarks in 39 cases in 2011.

During 2011, in 84 cases, the institution either settled the matter, or a friendly solution was reached. The cooperation of the EU institutions is essential to the achievement of such outcomes which help enhance relations between the institutions and citizens, and can avoid the need for expensive and time-consuming litigation.

If a friendly solution is not possible the Ombudsman either closes the case with a critical remark to the institution concerned or makes a draft recommendation. The Ombudsman normally makes a critical remark if (a) it is no longer possible for the institution involved to eliminate the instance of maladministration, (b) the maladministration appears to have no general implications, and (c.) no follow-up action by the Ombudsman seems necessary. The Ombudsman also makes a critical remark if he considers that a draft recommendation would serve no useful purpose, where the institution fails to accept a draft recommendation or where he does not deem it appropriate to submit a special report to Parliament.

A critical remark confirms to the complainant that his/her complaint is justified. It also indicates to the institution concerned what it has done wrong, so that it can avoid similar maladministration in the future.

Where it is possible for an institution to eliminate the maladministration, or where the maladministration is particularly serious or has general implications, the Ombudsman normally issues a draft recommendation to the institution. In accordance with Article 3(6) of the Statute of the Ombudsman, the institution must send a detailed opinion within three months.

During 2011, the Ombudsman issued 25 draft recommendations. The Ombudsman closed 13 cases during the year when an institution accepted a draft recommendation either fully or partly. The Ombudsman closed eight cases with critical remarks.

If an institution fails to respond satisfactorily to a draft recommendation, the Ombudsman may send a special report to the European Parliament. The special report may include recommendations. A special report to the European Parliament is the last step the Ombudsman can take in dealing with a case. The Ombudsman did not submit any special reports to Parliament in 2011.

The main subject matters of inquiries in 2011 were:

- openness, public access, and personal data;

- the Commission as guardian of the Treaties;

- award of tenders and grants;

- execution of contracts;

- administration and Staff Regulations;

- competitions and selection procedures.

The European Ombudsman cooperates closely with his counterparts in the Member States. This cooperation takes place in the framework of the European Network of Ombudsmen, which comprises over 90 offices in 32 European countries. It includes national and regional ombudsmen and similar bodies of the Member States of the European Union, the candidate countries for EU membership, and other countries in the European Economic Area and/or the Schengen area, as well as the European Ombudsman and the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions.

The Network holds seminars for national and regional ombudsmen in alternate years. The European Ombudsman and the Ombudsman of Denmark jointly organised the 8th National Seminar of the Network on ‘Law, politics, and ombudsmen in the Lisbon era’. It took place in Copenhagen from 20 to 22 October 2011. The Committee on Petitions was represented by Mrs Margrete Auken (Green/EFA).

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE

Date adopted

19.9.2012

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

19

0

1

Members present for the final vote

Sonia Alfano, Margrete Auken, Elena Băsescu, Victor Boştinaru, Michael Cashman, Ágnes Hankiss, Roger Helmer, Peter Jahr, Lena Kolarska-Bobińska, Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez, Erminia Mazzoni, Judith A. Merkies, Chrysoula Paliadeli, Nikolaos Salavrakos, Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa, Rainer Wieland

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Agustín Díaz de Mera García Consuegra, Phil Prendergast, Angelika Werthmann

Substitute(s) under Rule 187(2) present for the final vote

Elisabeth Köstinger