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

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PV 25/10/2012 - 23
CRE 25/10/2012 - 23

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PV 26/10/2012 - 6.6
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Friday, 26 October 2012 - Strasbourg
Annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman 2011

European Parliament resolution of 26 October 2012 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 Ombudsman’s 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.
(5) OJ C 72 E, 21.3.2002, p.331.

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