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The European Ombudsman - At a glance

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The European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the institutions and bodies of the European Union. The Ombudsman is completely independent and impartial. The current Ombudsman is Mr P. Nikiforos Diamandouros who took office on 1 April 2003.

Who is he?

The European Ombudsman is P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, former national ombudsman of Greece. He was elected by the European Parliament and has held office since 1 April 2003. The Parliament elected the first European Ombudsman in 1995.

What does he do?

The European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the institutions and bodies of the European Union (EU). The institutions include, among others, the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. The European Medicines Agency and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions are examples of Union bodies that he can investigate. Only the Court of Justice, the Court of First Instance, and the Civil Service Tribunal acting in their judicial role do not fall within his jurisdiction.

The Ombudsman usually conducts inquiries on the basis of complaints but can also launch inquiries on his own initiative.

What does he not do?

The Ombudsman cannot investigate:

  • complaints against national, regional or local authorities in the Member States, even when the complaints are about EU matters. Examples of such authorities are government departments, state agencies and local councils;
  • the activities of national courts or ombudsmen. The European Ombudsman is not an appeals body for decisions taken by these entities;
  • complaints against businesses or private individuals.

What complaints can he deal with?

The Ombudsman investigates cases of maladministration (poor or failed administration). Maladministration occurs if an institution fails to act in accordance with the law, fails to respect the principles of good administration, or violates human rights. Some examples are:

  • administrative irregularities
  • unfairness
  • discrimination
  • abuse of power
  • failure to reply
  • refusal of information
  • unnecessary delay

What outcome can be expected?

The Ombudsman may simply need to inform the institution concerned about a complaint in order for it to resolve the problem. If the case is not resolved satisfactorily during the course of his inquiries, the Ombudsman will try, if possible, to find a friendly solution which puts right the case of maladministration and satisfies the complainant. If the attempt at conciliation fails, the Ombudsman can make recommendations to solve the case. If the institution does not accept his recommendations, he can make a special report to the European Parliament.

Who can complain and how?

If you are a citizen of a Member State of the Union or reside in a Member State, you can make a complaint to the European Ombudsman. Businesses, associations or other bodies with a registered office in the Union may also complain to the Ombudsman.

Complaints can be lodged by post, fax or e-mail. A complaint guide and form is available from the Ombudsman’s office and can be downloaded from the Ombudsman’s website.

What if he cannot investigate the complaint?

If the Ombudsman is not able to investigate the complaint – for example, if it concerns national, regional or local administrations in the Member States – he will still do his best to help you solve your problem. This very often involves transferring the case to a member of the European Network of Ombudsmen or advising you to contact a member of the Network. Established in 1996, the Network comprises all national and regional ombudsmen in the EU Member States, the applicant countries for EU membership, Norway and Iceland, as well as committees on petitions in the EU.

Among the complainants that the European Ombudsman has helped in this way are:

  • A citizen who complained about the French organisation which manages unemployment insurance payments. With the complainant’s consent, the European Ombudsman transferred the complaint to the French Ombudsman who found a solution to the problem.
  • A Polish citizen, disabled as a result of a car accident, who alleged that the national social security institution had unfairly decided to suspend payment of his benefits. With the complainant’s consent, the case was transferred to the Polish Ombudsman to be dealt with.
  • Spanish citizens who called for action at the EU and national levels to address the problem of illegal immigration from North Africa. As the issue fell outside the European Ombudsman’s mandate, he advised the complainants to turn to the Spanish Ombudsman regarding the national authorities and to petition the European Parliament, which has both investigatory and legislative powers that could be used in relation to this matter at the EU level.

Can you give some examples of complaints he has resolved?

  • The European 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 just 30 days for services rendered under his latest contract.
  • The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) agreed to clarify the information it provides in its notices of recruitment competitions concerning pre-selection tests and eligibility. This followed a complaint from a Hungarian citizen who had applied to take part in a competition for assistant translators. The Ombudsman felt that providing additional clarifications would help avoid misunderstandings and improve relations with candidates.
  • The Ombudsman criticised the Council for failing to deal properly and carefully with a request for public access to documents. 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.

How can I contact the Ombudsman?

The European Ombudsman
1 Avenue du Président Robert Schuman
CS 30403
FR - 67001 Strasbourg Cedex
Tel. +33 (0)3 88 17 23 13
Fax +33 (0)3 88 17 90 62

Comprehensive and up-to-date information about the Ombudsman’s work is available from: http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu

Who else could help me?

If you have a problem with a national, regional or local administration, you could contact the relevant national or regional ombudsman or committee on petitions. Their contact details are available on the European Ombudsman’s website and can also be obtained by phoning the European Ombudsman’s office.

To have your EU queries answered, you can free phone EUROPE DIRECT on:
Tel. 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11

or visit the EUROPE DIRECT website which is available via Europa: http://europa.eu