Nieuwsbericht | 24-04-2006
24 April 2006
Ombudsman: Most citizens complain about lack of transparency
The European Ombudsman, P.Nikiforos Diamandouros, received 3,920 complaints from EU citizens, companies, NGOs and associations in 2005. "The rate of complaints still stands at the record high level attained in 2004," said Mr. Diamandouros at the presentation of his Annual Report 2005 in Brussels. One quarter of the inquiries carried out in 2005 concerned lack of transparency in the EU administration, including refusal of information. According to the Ombudsman, "The EU institutions have, over the years, done a lot to improve their services for the public but there is still a long way to go to create a fully open, transparent and accountable administration that is reassuring for the citizens".
Most of the inquiries in 2005 concerned the European Commission (68%), followed by the European Personnel Selection Office, the European Parliament and the Council. Among the alleged types of maladministration were refusal of information, unfairness, abuse of power, discrimination, procedural errors or avoidable delays. In 2005, the European Ombudsman dealt with a total of 627 inquiries. Following his intervention, the EU institutions settled bills, paid interest, released documents, remedied injustices and apologised for mistakes.
Spain produced the greatest number of complaints (20% of the total), followed by Germany (11%), France (10%) and Poland (9%). But relative to their population, most complaints came from Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg. "Many citizens do not know that I can only investigate alleged maladministration by EU institutions and bodies, and not complaints against national or regional authorities in the Member States, even if they involve Community law," said Mr. Diamandouros. "Two thirds of the complaints are therefore still outside my mandate." However, the European Ombudsman was able to help over 75% of complainants, by opening an inquiry, transferring complaints to the competent body, or giving advice on where to turn.
The Ombudsman's Executive Summary and Statistics 2005 is available in all official EU languages and contains summaries of cases, background information and statistics. It can be downloaded at the following web address:
The full Annual Report in English is also available at this web address. It will be available in all the 20 official languages in July.
The European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the EU institutions and bodies. Any EU citizen, resident, or an enterprise or association in a Member State, can lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman offers a fast, flexible and free means of solving problems with the EU administration. For more information: http://www.euro-ombudsman.eu.int
Press contact: Gundi Gadesmann, Press Officer, tel. +32 2 284 2609
FACT SHEET ANNUAL REPORT 2005
How many complaints?
The Ombudsman received 3,920 complaints in 2005. This figure represents a 5% increase compared to 2004 (3,726). He dealt with 627 inquiries (including 284 from 2004), of which five own-initiative inquiries.
How many admissible complaints?
The Ombudsman can only investigate alleged maladministration by EU institutions and not complaints against national or regional authorities in the Member States, even if these involve Community law. In 2005, 1,184 complaints were inside the mandate of the Ombudsman (31%), and 2,673 complaints outside the mandate (69%). Nevertheless, in more than 75% of cases, the Ombudsman was able to help by opening an inquiry, transferring the case to the competent body or giving advice on where else to turn.
68% of the inquiries dealt with in 2005 concerned the Commission, followed by the European Personnel Selection Office (12%), the European Parliament (9%) and the Council (2%).
Lack or refusal of information (24% of total inquiries), unfairness or abuse of power (17%), discrimination (13%), procedural errors (10%), avoidable delay (9%), negligence (6%). The complaints ranged from allegations of failure to give access to documents to late payments for EU contracts to discrimination against EU staff.
Spain produced the greatest number of complaints (20%), followed by Germany (11%), France (10%) and Poland (9%). However, relative to their population most complaints came from Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg. Most complaints were lodged by individual citizens (94,5%), with companies or associations responsible for the remaining 5,5%. In terms of the complaints lodged by companies and associations, it is important to note that around half of these were within the Ombudsman's mandate, compared to around one-fifth of the complaints lodged by individual citizens.
A total of 89 cases were settled by the institutions following a complaint to the Ombudsman. Seven (7) complaints resulted in friendly solutions. In 29 cases the Ombudsman made a critical remark. A critical remark is normally made if it is no longer possible to eliminate the instance of maladministration. In cases where maladministration is particularly serious and it is still possible to eliminate it, the Ombudsman makes a draft recommendation. In 2005, 20 draft recommendations were made. In 114 cases, the Ombudsman's inquiry revealed no maladministration.
The ultimate weapon of the Ombudsman is a special report to the European Parliament. In 2005, three special reports were made.
SELECTION OF CASES 2005
The Commission agreed to pay compensation of EUR 56 000 to a French journalist after the Ombudsman found that it had failed to respect the complainant's reasonable expectations. The Commission had cancelled its financial contribution to the complainant's project four weeks before it was due to take place.
Refusal of Council to meet in public
The Ombudsman submitted a special report to the European Parliament after the Council failed to give valid reasons for refusing to meet in public whenever it is acting in its legislative capacity. The Ombudsman's inquiry followed a complaint from the German MEP, Mr Elmar BROK, in which he alleged that the Council's Rules of Procedure are not in conformity with the Treaty on European Union, according to which the Council and the other Community institutions and bodies must take decisions as openly as possible.
Misleading statements made by OLAF
The Ombudsman sent a special report to the European Parliament concerning statements that the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) made in the context of an inquiry he carried out. The inquiry concerned allegations of bribery, made by OLAF, that were likely to be understood as directed against a particular journalist. The journalist then submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman, alleging that the information provided by OLAF was liable "to mislead the European Ombudsman and to manipulate the inquiry". In his special report, the Ombudsman recommended that OLAF acknowledge that it had made incorrect and misleading statements.
The Commission settled a case of late payment to a German science journalist, explained the reasons for the delay and agreed to pay interest. It confirmed that it had, in the meantime, taken measures to accelerate payments to experts. The complainant subsequently pointed out that he had been paid within only 30 days for services rendered under his latest contract.
Abolition of age limit for trainees
The Commission abolished the age limit of 30 years as one of the selection criteria in its in-service traineeship programme. This followed a complaint concerning the rules governing the programme. The Ombudsman noted that several other Community institutions and bodies apply an age limit in their traineeship programmes. He therefore announced that he would launch an own-initiative inquiry into these programmes.
Problems with access to documents
The Ombudsman criticised the Council for failing to deal with a request for public access to documents properly and carefully. This followed an inquiry which revealed that, contrary to the Council's initial response to the complainant concerning the number of relevant documents, many additional documents in fact existed. As a result of the Ombudsman's investigation, the complainant was given access to the additional documents.