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EO express 05/2022

The EO express brings you an overview of the European Ombudsman’s recent activities, including inquiry openings, key findings, speeches and events. Subscribe here if you want to get the EO express - published six times a year - in your mailbox.

RECENT INQUIRY DEVELOPMENTS

Ombudsman calls for improved transparency around EU recovery funds

The Ombudsman has urged the Commission to treat access to document requests concerning EU recovery funds with greater consistency and to better explain its reasoning if it decides not to release documents. The Ombudsman’s suggestions follow a complaint from a journalist looking for documents related to how the Commission evaluated Denmark and Sweden’s plans for money allocated to them under the €800 billion Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). According to the Ombudsman, the arguments put forth by the Commission under exceptions to the EU’s transparency law were too vague and general in nature. The inquiry also showed that the Commission treated the two access requests in a contradictory manner even though the wording of each was identical.

In a related development, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have reached a political agreement on RRF energy-related investments, which also includes an obligation for Member States to publish information on the 100 largest final recipients of all RRF funds. The Ombudsman welcomes this agreement as a means to further increase transparency around EU recovery funds.


Commission should better assess human rights impact before providing support to African countries to develop surveillance capabilities, says Ombudsman

The Ombudsman has found that the Commission did not sufficiently assess the human rights impact of projects with potential surveillance capabilities under the EU's Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. To improve the situation, the Ombudsman has asked the Commission to carry out stand-alone human rights assessments for future projects. The findings follow a complaint from civil society organisations who contended that, before agreeing to support projects with potential surveillance implications, such as introducing biometric databases or mobile phone monitoring technologies, the Commission should have carried out assessments to ensure the projects do not result in human rights violations.


Commission should proactively publish more material on Common Agricultural Policy national plans, says Ombudsman

To ensure transparency and a balanced representation of interests in the implementation of the EU's updated Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Ombudsman has suggested the Commission proactively publish more material on Member State plans, as well as meet with more stakeholders from outside of the agricultural sector. The Ombudsman’s suggestions are the result of a strategic initiative looking into how the Commission is planning to address concerns related to transparency and representation in the implementation of new CAP rules from 2023.


Ombudsman asks Commission how it prevents conflicts of interest when evaluating Defence Fund projects

The Ombudsman has asked the Commission how it ensures experts evaluating proposed projects under the European Defence Fund (EDF) do not have conflicts of interest. These experts evaluate and review projects meant to develop defence technology and equipment, with their input helping the Commission decide which projects should receive funding. As the Commission is not required to publish the list of experts it intends to consult and as the outcome of ethics screenings will not be made public, the Ombudsman is asking the Commission to explain what other measures it has put in place to prevent conflicts of interest.


Regrettable that Commission did not properly present citizens’ views in public consultation on sustainable corporate governance - Ombudsman

The Ombudsman has found it regrettable that the Commission did not adopt a more citizen-friendly approach to how it presented the findings of its public consultation on the Sustainable Corporate Governance Initiative. In the summary report published after the closure of the consultation, the Commission chose not to report on the content of responses received through people’s participation in online campaigns. The Ombudsman said that this choice risked discouraging organisations from launching campaigns in the future, which would be detrimental to collecting the views of citizens and ultimately to their involvement in the decision-making process. She suggested that the Commission provides better information on the responses received through campaign platforms in the future.


Ombudsman welcomes progress on Commission’s treatment of ‘revolving doors’

The Ombudsman has welcomed the Commission’s response to her inquiry on how it handles moves by staff to the private sector. In reply to the Ombudsman’s proposals, the Commission said it would ask ex-staff to report on how they were complying with restrictions, such as not lobbying former colleagues, in cases where there was a reputational risk for the Commission. The Commission also said it would publish its annual overview of senior staff members requesting permission to move to new employment, and its assessment of these requests, much faster than before. In addition, staff on unpaid leave are now forbidden from taking employment in areas where there is a risk of conflict of interest.


SPEECHES

The evolving role of the European Ombudsman - Emily O’Reilly addresses European University Institute seminar

‘The Ombudsman gives to the complainant what the administration already has: power, status, knowledge, and consequently the ability to state their case and play on a level field.’

Full speech of European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly at conference on the ‘Evolving Role of the European Ombudsman’ in Florence, Italy (17-18 November).

This event, organised by the European Ombudsman and the European University Institute’s Department of Law and School of Transnational Governance brought together diverse perspectives from academia, civil society, the EU administration, and the European Ombudsman’s office. Participants discussed how the European Ombudsman has developed in its role of ensuring an independent, transparent, and accountable EU administration.


EU institutions must set good example when it comes to the rights of persons with disabilities, Ombudsman says

On 30 November, the Ombudsman took part in a workshop on the rights of persons with disabilities organised by the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions. She stressed that EU institutions have a fundamental obligation to set a good example when it comes to disability rights and highlighted her inquiry into how the Commission accommodated the needs of staff with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ombudsman also described her inquiry into how the Commission monitors that European Structural and Investment funds are used by Member States to ensure the right of persons with disabilities to independent living and inclusion in the community.

See the Ombudsman's complete remarks


PUBLICATIONS

OECD and Ombudsman publish transparency principles for use of recovery funds

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Ombudsman have published good practice principles to help ensure transparency in how funds from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) are used to help Member State economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim is to help local, national, and EU administrations promote access to information, enhance public communication, and strengthen civil society oversight.