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Annual Report 2022
Annual Report - Date Tuesday | 25 April 2023
It is a great pleasure to present the European Ombudsman’s Annual Report for 2022.
This year, the office put renewed focus on the public’s right to take part in the democratic life of the European Union, for which transparent decision making and timely access to EU documents is essential.
In this light, I asked the European Commission to take steps to ensure that the public can easily see how funds meant to help the EU economy recover from the pandemic are being spent.
I also launched a public consultation on the transparency of environmental decision making. Citizens have strong participation and access to information rights when it comes to environmental decisions, and it is important to assess whether these rights are being fully respected by the EU administration.
Complaints to my office show that people are often frustrated with how long it takes EU institutions to deal with their access to document requests, despite the fact that there are set timelines. To find out what is contributing to these delays, I launched two inquiries to look at the details of how such requests are treated.
I also published guidelines on what is for the EU administration a relatively new aspect of this issue: how and when to record work-related text messages. These guidelines will help bring EU administrative practices in line with the modern methods we use to communicate.
I continued my focus on ‘revolving doors’ throughout 2022, including by asking the European Central Bank to be particularly vigilant about staff moves to jobs in the financial sector and suggesting to the European Investment Bank that it tighten the implementation of its rules in this area. I was pleased to note that the Commission took steps to improve how it handles revolving doors following my broad inquiry into the matter.
Over the past years, I have reformed the office internally to allow it to work more efficiently on complaint-handling and tackling systemic issues within the EU administration. This has led to faster complaint-handling times, as well as important positive results in the EU administration across a range of areas. With the aim of gathering ideas to maintain the office as a valuable oversight body, I hosted an academic seminar with the European University Institute’s Department of Law and School of Transnational Governance in Florence on the evolving role of the European Ombudsman. I plan to further explore several of the ideas arising from the discussions.
Lastly, the annual European Network of Ombudsmen (ENO) conference addressed some of the major issues facing ombudsmen, such as upholding the rights of those fleeing the war in Ukraine. I was happy to formally welcome the Ukrainian and Moldovan ombudsman offices to the Network after the two countries received EU candidate status in June.
The year ended on a sombre note with the corruption allegations in the European Parliament. It put the spotlight on the lax ethics rules in the Parliament, as well as in the wider institutional EU. The EU’s status as a global regulatory, trading, and political power makes it a natural target for lobbyists, industry, and foreign states trying to influence its decision making. We need to ensure that the EU’s ethics and anti-corruption rules are able to withstand this pressure.
Part of making the EU administration stronger in this area involves pointing out where standards have slipped and what can be improved. As an independent ethics-monitoring body, my office will continue to do this in 2023.
2. 2022 at a glance
3. Key topics
The Ombudsman helps people, businesses, and organisations as they engage with the EU institutions, bodies, offices, and agencies. Problems can include a lack of transparency in decision making, refusal of access to documents, violations of fundamental rights, and contractual issues. The following sections give an overview of key cases related to a particular area.
3.1. Ethical issues
Following the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, we have suggested that @EU_Commission proactively publishes more material on national plans to implement #NewCAP and that @EUAgri meets more non-agricultural sector representatives.
Following the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), we have suggested that the European Commission proactively publishes more material on national plans to implement the new CAP, and that the Commission's Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development meets more non-agricultural sector representatives.
Maintaining high ethics standards in the EU administration is a key area of the Ombudsman’s work. This covers the implementation of rules on ‘revolving doors’, conflicts of interest, and meetings with lobbyists. The Ombudsman also anticipates potential problems and proactively asks EU institutions to provide information on how they are upholding ethics standards, particularly in areas of high public interest.
As part of an overall focus on how the EU administration interacts with lobbyists and stakeholders, the Ombudsman asked the Commission for information on how it is ensuring transparency and a balanced representation of interests in relation to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The Ombudsman made several observations, including that the Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development, as lead department on this issue, should to the greatest extent possible discuss CAP with citizens and other stakeholders in addition to representatives from the agricultural sector. She also encouraged the Commission to proactively publish more information about the approval of Member States’ ‘strategic plans’, which detail how CAP objectives will be met.
The Ombudsman opened an own-initiative inquiry to assess how the Commission ensures that its interactions with tobacco interest representatives are transparent. The inquiry is a follow-up to previous inquiries in the area, including one which in 2016 concluded that the Commission was failing to meet its obligations under the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
As part of our inquiry into #transparency of interactions with #tobacco lobbyists, we have asked
for additional info about:
- written records of meetings with lobbyists
- how it dealt with #accesstodocuments requests on this matter
As part of our inquiry into transparency of interactions with tobacco lobbyists, we have asked the European Commission for additional info about:
- written records of meetings with lobbyists,
- how it dealt with access to documents requests on this matter.
The role of the Ombudsman is also to anticipate public interest issues and pre-emptively ask for information from the EU administration. In this light, the Ombudsman asked the Commission for more details about how it ensures that external experts involved in evaluating project proposals under the European Defence Fund (EDF) do not have conflicts of interest. The Ombudsman noted that the list of experts is not made public, making it more important that ethics obligations are robustly implemented.
The Ombudsman welcomed the Commission’s proposal to amend the Financial Regulation to include the possibility to reject tenderers if they have a professional conflict of interest. The amendment was in response to the Ombudsman’s findings about the Commission’s decision to award BlackRock Investment Management a study contract in an area of regulatory and financial interest to it.
Following our #BlackRock inquiry, we welcome @EU_Commission's proposal to reject tender applicants if they have a professional conflicting interest.
Following our BlackRock inquiry, we welcome the European Commission's proposal to reject tender applicants if they have a professional conflicting interest.
3.2. Revolving doors
Following a broad inquiry – covering 100 files – into how the Commission handles moves by staff to the private sector, the Ombudsman asked it to forbid jobs temporarily if they pose risks that cannot be offset by restrictions or if restrictions cannot be credibly monitored and enforced. The Commission was also asked to publish decisions on staff members’ new jobs faster to allow for timely public scrutiny.
Following an inquiry into how
handles #RevolvingDoors, we called on the Commission to:
️- forbid jobs temporarily if risks cannot be offset or restrictions cannot be enforced
- ️publish decisions on staff members’ new jobs faster
Following an inquiry into how the European Commission handles Revolving Doors, we called on the Commission to:
- forbid jobs temporarily if risks cannot be offset or restrictions cannot be enforced,
- publish decisions on staff members’ new jobs faster.
Emily O’Reilly: “My office has carried out several enquiries about how EU institutions handle applications by staff to move to jobs in the private sector. The EU institutions are at a critical point in their treatment of this issue, known as ‘revolving doors’. To maintain the expertise and integrity of the EU administration, revolving door rules need to be robustly implemented and that includes by temporarily forbidding jobs where necessary.”
In response, the Commission said that, for cases where there is a reputational risk for the Commission, it would ask former staff to report back on how they are complying with any restrictions, such as on lobbying former colleagues. It 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, faster than previously. In addition, staff on unpaid leave are now forbidden from taking employment in areas where there is a risk of conflict of interest. The Ombudsman welcomed the improvements and said she would continue to monitor the Commission’s handling of the issue.
After conducting an own-initiative inquiry into how the European Central Bank (ECB) manages revolving doors, the Ombudsman asked the bank to apply stricter rules to moves by staff to the private sector, and particularly to the financial sector. The Ombudsman asked that more staff are subject to stricter cooling-off requirements, and that the ban on former senior ECB staff lobbying their former colleagues is increased to one year.
As part of our work on #revolvingdoors in the EU administration, we have asked @ecb to take a more robust approach to managing staff moves to the private sector, and particularly to the financial sector.
As part of our work on revolving doors in the EU administration, we have asked the European Central Bank to take a more robust approach to managing staff moves to the private sector, and particularly to the financial sector.
The Ombudsman made several suggestions to the European Investment Bank (EIB) to strengthen how it assesses moves by members of its Management Committee to the private sector. This followed the EIB’s decision to approve a move by a former Vice-President to a utility company that had received loans from the bank.
We ask the @EIB to take a more robust approach to #revolvingdoors after our investigation into a former EIB Vice-President's move to an energy utilities company that had received EIB loans.
We ask the European Investment Bank (EIB) to take a more robust approach to revolving doors after our investigation into a former EIB Vice-President's move to an energy utilities company that had received EIB loans.
3.3. Accountability in decision making
The EU treaties require that all EU decisions are taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen. Transparency and participation helps to increase the legitimacy of EU decision making. This is particularly important when it comes to decisions related to the environment.
In September, the Ombudsman launched a public consultation to evaluate whether citizens have access to up-to-date information in this area. The questions were aimed at finding out how easy it is for the public to obtain documents or information related to the environment, and how citizens could be more involved in the preparation and implementation of green policies. The consultation received 18 replies and the Ombudsman will be taking follow-up steps in 2023. To help prepare this work, the Ombudsman’s Office reached out to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee Secretariat to learn more about its role in complaint-handling on environmental matters.
We have launched a public consultation on #transparency in EU environmental decision making.
Do citizens have access to up-to-date info in this important area? How can civil society be more involved? We want to hear from you!
We have launched a public consultation on transparency in
EU environmental decision making.
Do citizens have access to up-to-date info in this important area? How can civil society be more involved? We want to hear from you!
Three Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) complained to the Ombudsman that the European Investment Bank (EIB) publishes too little information, and too late, about the projects it finances. The Ombudsman asked the Bank to implement a number of steps so that the public has sufficient time to raise environmental concerns about EIB-funded projects. The steps include publishing lists of the project documents that contain environment information and publishing online project summaries in the language of the country concerned. The EIB’s follow up has been insufficient to date and the Ombudsman intends to step up her scrutiny of the Bank’s activities.
The @EIB is the world's biggest multilateral financial institution. We have asked it to improve #transparency about projects it finances so the public can more easily assess their impact on the #environment
The European Investment Bank is the world's biggest multilateral financial institution. We have asked it to improve transparency about projects it finances so the public can more easily assess their impact on the environment.
The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) forms part of an unprecedented EU-financed stimulus package to help Member State economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ombudsman asked the Commission how it will ensure accountability when it comes to recovery fund spending so that the public can easily see which projects are being financed and whether promised milestones have been reached. The Ombudsman also received complaints about refused access to documents related to the recovery plans of Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark. In her analyses, the Ombudsman stressed that the importance of the RRF must be matched by high transparency standards.
reasoning to not grant wider #accesstodocuments concerning
EU #COVID19 recovery funds vague and inconsistent.
#NextGenEU is an unprecedented €800bn stimulus package and should be matched with high transparency standards.
We found the European Commission reasoning to not grant wider access to documents concerning EU COVID-19 recovery funds vague and inconsistent.
Next Generation EU is an unprecedented €800bn stimulus package and should be matched with high transparency standards.
A group of CSOs and associations turned to the Ombudsman after the Commission counted the almost 123 000 individual responses – submitted in one document – to a public consultation on the Sustainable Corporate Governance Initiative as a single response with multiple signatories. It also did not summarise the main concerns raised via the campaign in a timely and adequate way. The Ombudsman found this approach regrettable and asked that in the future the Commission provide better information on the responses received from citizens through campaign platforms.
The Commission explained how it collects information concerning the implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation in Ireland following concerns that it had not collected sufficient information to be able to assess how the law is being applied. The Ombudsman found the explanations satisfactory but encouraged the Commission to be more prescriptive in terms of its information needs so that it can adequately monitor this important area.
Referring to the strong and legitimate public interest, the Ombudsman asked the Council whether it could proactively release more documents related to the adoption of sanctions against Russia. The Council provided a detailed and convincing explanation as to why even marginal additional transparency is hard to achieve in this area at this moment.
3.4. Access to documents
EU citizens have broad rights to access EU documents held by the EU institutions. They can turn to the Ombudsman if they face difficulties gaining access to these documents.
The Ombudsman published a set of practical recommendations for the EU administration on the recording of work-related text and instant messages. The recommendations say that work-related text and instant messages should be recognised as EU documents, technological solutions should be put in place to enable the easy recoding of such messages, and staff should have clear guidance on how such messages should be recorded. This issue is a relatively new one for the EU administration and arose when a journalist asked for access to text messages between the Commission President and the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. The Ombudsman found maladministration in how the Commission handled the matter as it did not identify whether the text messages exist and noted that its practice is not to register text messages. In response, the Commission said it would issue further guidance on modern communication tools such as text messages.
Given how @EU_Commission handled this issue and has still not even clarified whether messages concerning a major vaccine purchase deal exist, we confirm our finding of maladministration.
Given how the European Commission handled this issue and has still not even clarified whether messages concerning a major vaccine purchase deal exist, we confirm our finding of maladministration.
Emily O’Reilly: “Public access requests for text messages will become more common. This inquiry is a wake-up call for all EU institutions. The issue needs to be tackled substantively and in good faith.”
The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) agreed to publish on its website extensive information on detections of possible oil spills from the year 2015 onwards. The Ombudsman praised EMSA’s action, which followed a complaint by an investigative journalist platform.
For complainants, getting the sought-after information in a timely manner is key as the relevance of the information usually declines over time.
Following an inquiry, the Council gave access to Member States’ initial comments and questions on the draft Digital Markets Act – a key piece of EU legislation – but only after legislative discussions on the law had finished. Similarly, the Commission granted public access to documents concerning the purchase of 1.5 million medical masks almost two years after the initial request.
We have asked
to give faster access to legislative documents.
This follows its decision to give access to Member States' opinions on the #DigitalMarketsAct – but over a year after the initial request, and after the end of negotiations.
We have asked the European Council to give faster access to legislative documents.
This follows its decision to give access to Member States' opinions on the Digital Markets Act – but over a year after the initial request, and after the end of negotiations.
Given the increasing number of delays in handling access to document requests, the Ombudsman launched two inquiries to look into the issue. One concerned the length of time it takes the Commission to deal with public access requests; the second is related to how the European Border and Coast Agency (Frontex) handles such requests.
We have asked
for details on time it takes to deal with access to document requests, following an increase in complaints about delays in the process.
Aim of the inquiry is to identify a systemic approach for reducing handling times.
We have asked the European Commission for details on time it takes to deal with access to document requests, following an increase in complaints about delays in the process.
Aim of the inquiry is to identify a systemic approach for reducing handling times.
3.5. Fundamental rights
The Ombudsman asked Frontex to improve its accountability after conducting a strategic inquiry into how it complies with its fundamental rights obligations under its expanded mandate. The inquiry examined the transparency of Frontex’s joint operations with national authorities at the EU’s borders, how it identifies fundamental rights concerns, and how it monitors the return of people seeking asylum.
The Ombudsman identified several areas where Frontex could improve its practices, including by publishing summaries of its operational plans and further training its fundamental rights monitors. In a separate inquiry, the Ombudsman made suggestions for how to improve the accessibility of Frontex’s complaints mechanism for people who feel their fundamental rights have been breached.
We welcome that @Frontex has followed our suggestions to improve the #accessibility of its complaints mechanism for potential victims of #fundamentalrights violations.
The letter from Frontex: ombudsman.europa.eu/en/case/en/579
We welcome that Frontex has followed our suggestions to improve the accessibility of its complaints mechanism for potential victims of fundamental rights violations.
Following an inquiry, the Ombudsman criticised the Commission’s delay in setting up a monitoring mechanism for border management by the Croatian authorities. She asked the Commission to provide up-to-date information on how the monitoring mechanism is working and whether it is independent and effective. She also asked the Commission to report back by early 2023 on the steps it has taken to strengthen fundamental rights compliance in Croatian border operations receiving EU funds.
In response to questions about how it ensures respect for human rights in international trade agreements, the Commission noted that since 2020 a Chief Trade Enforcement Officer oversees the enforcement of EU trade agreements and manages complaints from different stakeholders through an online portal. The Ombudsman asked the Commission to set up a new and separate complaint-handling portal for alleged human rights abuses, and to examine how it can be made accessible for human rights-related complaints by civil society organisations and other stakeholders in countries with which the EU has trade deals.
Following a complaint by a group of Civil Society Organisation (CSOs), the Ombudsman found that the Commission did not sufficiently assess the human rights impact of projects with potential surveillance capabilities funded by the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. She asked that, in the future, each project be assessed on human rights grounds.
We have found
did not sufficiently assess the #humanrights impact of projects with potential surveillance capabilities under EU's Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.
We have asked for stand-alone human rights assessments for future projects.
We have found the European Commission did not sufficiently assess the human rights impact of projects with potential surveillance capabilities under EU's Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.
We have asked for stand-alone human rights assessments for future projects.
In 2020, the Ombudsman published a set of practical recommendations on the use of the official EU languages when communicating with the public. These included establishing a clear policy on use of official languages, publishing the policy, and applying it consistently. In autumn 2022, the network of EU agencies announced that, on the basis of the Ombudsman’s recommendations, it had agreed guidelines and a template on multilingual policies.
3.6. Grants, contracts and tenders
An international conservation organisation, which carried out an EU-funded project concerning environmental protection and biodiversity in the Horn of Africa, turned to the Ombudsman after the Commission sought to recover costs following the findings of an audit report. During the course of the inquiry, the Commission waived its decision to recover the funds granted for one of the costs and satisfactorily explained its reasoning for recovering another part of the costs.
Following the Ombudsman’s intervention, the Commission revised its stance on costs incurred by a recipient of an EU grant for a water infrastructure project in Lebanon. It agreed to accept as eligible the staff costs the complainant had submitted.
The Translation Centre for the bodies of the EU (CdT) changed the wording of the documentation used in procurement procedures to provide greater clarity for tenderers following an Ombudsman inquiry. The complainant had turned to the Office after the CdT had rejected her submission to provide editing services on the grounds that she had not provided evidence of her professional experience.
Following an Ombudsman inquiry, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) acknowledged it had made a technical error in refusing to pay a complainant the reimbursements they had requested. It then proceeded to make the payment.
4. Complaints and inquiries: how we help the public
The European Ombudsman helps people, businesses, and organisations facing problems with the EU’s administration by dealing with complaints they submit, as well as by seeking to promote good administrative practices by proactively identifying broader systemic issues within the EU institutions.
The Ombudsman is constantly seeking to improve internal procedures to ensure the Office deals with inquiries in the most efficient manner possible and to ensure that complainants have an optimal experience. To enhance the efficiency and consistency of inquiries, the 'thematic teams' within the Directorate of Inquires continued to improve their collaborative peer review approach to case handling. The further development and expansion of knowledge management tools and expert resources helped inquiries officers deal with cases covering a broad range of issues.
The Ombudsman also introduced further improvements to how inquiries are published online to make them easier for the public to follow. Inquiries are now presented by theme or topic, meaning visitors to the website can easily find all the inquiries related to a specific area of work. The webpages also contain an explanation of the Ombudsman's role and powers in each area, so that potential complainants have more information about how complaints are handled.
The Ombudsman continued to promote the Office's work as a redress mechanism for those seeking public access to documents. Building on the Office's expertise in this area, the Ombudsman published a detailed guide on the right of public access to EU documents. This online tool includes a Q&A for a general audience, as well as an in-depth guide for expert stakeholders and transparency activists. The guide provides comprehensive information on the practical and legal aspects of the right of public access.
The Office’s diverse team of case handlers and the multilingual website reflect the Ombudsman’s commitment to helping those seeking assistance in all 24 official languages of the EU.
While the Ombudsman is not always in a position to inquire into all complaints received, the Office nonetheless tries to help all those who seek assistance, for example by providing advice on other possibilities for redress.
4.1. Type and source of complaints
4.1.1. Overview of complaints and strategic inquiries
The Ombudsman may open an inquiry only into complaints that are within her mandate and have fulfilled the necessary ‘admissibility criteria’, such as the complainant having previously tried to resolve the matter directly with the institution involved.
The themes of the Office’s work derive from the Ombudsman’s mandate and the complaints received, which account for most cases. However, in addition to the core work on complaints, the Ombudsman also conducts wider strategic inquiries and initiatives into systemic issues in the EU institutions.
4.1.2. Complaints outside the Ombudsman’s mandate
In 2022, the European Ombudsman processed almost 1 500 complaints that did not fall within her mandate, mostly because they did not concern the work of the EU administration. Over 40% of these complaints came from Spain, Poland, and Germany, with Spain alone accounting for half that figure.
For the most part, people approached the Ombudsman with issues concerning court cases, equal treatment or discrimination, health policy and care, administrative transparency, and consumer protection. Their out of mandate complaints primarily related to problems encountered with national, regional or local public bodies, governments and public service bodies, and national or international courts (such as the European Court of Human Rights). Citizens also directed a large number of complaints at private entities, including banks, online businesses and platforms, and airlines.
The Ombudsman also received many out of mandate complaints related to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.
The Ombudsman continued to receive a high number of out of mandate complaints related to the COVID-19 pandemic. These predominantly concerned measures national authorities put in place in response to the pandemic and the right to move freely within the EU.
Other out of mandate complaints concerned EU institutions, but were related to political or legislative work.
The Ombudsman replied to all those seeking help in the language of their complaint or in the language of their preference. The replies clarified the Ombudsman’s mandate and, as far as possible, advised complainants to turn to other bodies that could help. Even though these comprised mainly national and regional ombudsman institutions, the Ombudsman also guided complainants to EU institutions (mostly the Commission and Parliament), and networks, such as SOLVIT and the European Consumer Centres.
Where complainants were unhappy with specific EU legislation, the Ombudsman generally advised them to turn to the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions. She referred those who raised issues relating to the implementation of EU law to national or regional ombudsmen, or to EU networks such as Europe Direct.
To help deal with these cases as speedily and efficiently as possible, the Ombudsman streamlined their handling via new templates introduced in May. Feedback on their use has been positive to date.
4.2. Against whom?
4.3. About what?
4.4. Results achieved
4.5. Impact and achievements
One of the overarching goals of the European Ombudsman is to achieve tangible improvements for complainants and the public in the EU administration. The Ombudsman achieves this by making proposals in the form of solutions, recommendations, and suggestions. The Ombudsman can also promote improvement through strategic initiatives, which are not formal inquiries. She may also prompt an institution to settle a matter even before a formal solution proposal or recommendation is made.
4.5.1. Acceptance rate
The acceptance rate is the percentage of positive replies to the total number of proposals (solutions, recommendations and suggestions) made by the Ombudsman. As the Ombudsman gives institutions up to six months to follow up on suggestions made in her decisions closing inquiries, the acceptance rate for 2022 covers cases closed in 2021.
In 2021, the EU institutions cooperated satisfactorily with the Ombudsman in 79% of instances. Of the 33 proposals the Ombudsman made to correct or improve their administrative practices, the EU institutions reacted positively to 26 of them.
4.5.2. Broader impact
The acceptance rate captures responses from the institutions to proposals at a particular point in time and does not fully capture the impact of the Ombudsman’s work over time.
The Ombudsman opens around 350 inquiries each year. Positive change arising from these inquiries often emerges gradually as the EU institutions adjust to new norms concerning good administration. Engaged collaboration with the EU institutions, bodies, and agencies, as well as pressure on the EU administration from complainants, media, civil society, Members of the European Parliament, and EU courts also help to achieve positive results.
Below are some examples of positive change in key areas of Ombudsman inquiries over recent years.
|SITUATION PREVIOUSLY||SITUATION NOW|
|Accountability in decision making|
|Difficult for the public to scrutinise Eurogroup decision making.||Eurogroup meetings are summarised in more detail. Online repository of publicly available Eurogroup documents.|
|More clarity needed about how the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control takes decisions.||ECDC explains reasoning for decisions and is committed to more accessible communication with the public.|
|Lack of transparency concerning decision making by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority.||EIOPA publishes its Board of Supervisors’ voting records on draft regulatory standards.|
|Room for improvement in how the European Central Bank engaged with stakeholders.||ECB took steps to avoid any risk of potentially market-sensitive information being shared with restricted audiences.|
|Lobbying transparency & ethics|
|Code of Conduct for Commissioners: notification period concerning post-term employment is too short. Ethics committee’s assessment of Commissioners’ new jobs not published.||Code of Conduct strengthened: notification periods lengthened, rules on declaration of financial interests tightened. Proactive publication of assessment of Commissioners’ post-term employment.|
|Lobbying awareness: limited training or guidelines on interactions with lobbyists. No records of meetings between Commissioners and lobbyists.||List of ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for EU officials interacting with lobbyists, used by Commission. Public record of meetings between Commissioners with lobbyists.|
|Revolving doors: lack of awareness about potential conflicts of interest and negative effects on public trust.||EC publishes names and new posts of senior staff moving to entities potentially active in lobbying and advocacy annually.|
|Access to documents|
|Inadequate prioritisation of access to document inquiries.||Many EU institutions agree with EO’s Fast-Track approach, allowing EO to issue findings within 40 working days.|
|Lack of transparency around clinical trials results for medicines.||European Medicines Agency grants access to clinical trials documents.|
|Commissioner travel expenses and miscellaneous costs for work trips not published.||Commission proactively publishes commissioner travel expenses and miscellaneous costs for work trips.|
|Trilogues: no information about dates, agenda, and negotiators present for inter-institutional negotiations on draft laws.||Trilogue calendars and agendas are often published in advance and lead negotiators named. Work on a joint legislative database is underway.|
|Council legislative transparency: little information available on evolution of draft legislation through the Council.||Council proactively publishes report on negotiations on draft laws, as well as its mandate for legislative negotiations with the Parliament.|
|Lack of redress for migrants and refugees who felt their fundamental rights had been breached.||Frontex and the EU Agency for Asylum have set up complaints mechanisms for allegations of fundamental rights breaches.|
|Rights of persons with disabilities: room for improvement in implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.||Commission improves accessibility of its website and online tools for persons with disabilities.|
For a broader overview of the impact of the European Ombudsman’s work, please visit this webpage: https://europa.eu/!vQ6937
5. The evolving role of the Ombudsman
On 17-18 November, the European Ombudsman and the European University Institute’s Department of Law and School of Transnational Governance held a conference in Florence, Italy to examine how the European Ombudsman has evolved in its role of ensuring an independent, transparent, and accountable EU administration. The event brought together diverse perspectives from academia, civil society, the EU administration, and the European Ombudsman’s office itself.
Read Emily O’Reilly on the ethos of the European Ombudsman, what it means to treat people fairly, and the role of public interest inquiries - at @EUI_EU seminar on evolving role of the EU Ombudsman
Read here the speech by Emily O’Reilly on the ethos of the European Ombudsman, what it means to treat people fairly, and the role of public interest inquiries – at the European University Institute seminar on evolving role of the European Ombudsman.
Emily O’Reilly: “The Ombudsman gives the complainant what the administration already has: power, status, knowledge and consequently the ability to state their case and play on a level field.”
The various panels discussed how the Ombudsman's role has developed over the years, how the Ombudsman’s ‘soft power’ can encourage positive change, and the role of transparency in achieving accountability in the EU institutions. Based on a call for academic papers, there was also a discussion on new challenges and opportunities for the Ombudsman in monitoring specific policy areas or specific EU bodies.
A core topic of discussion across the event’s five panels was the emerging shift from reactive to proactive transparency on the part of EU institutions, something the Ombudsman has worked to encourage over the years. Participants also spoke of the Ombudsman’s regular dialogue with EU institutions and civil society, how the Ombudsman uses her broad mandate to promote good governance and the highest ethics standards, and how the new statute governing the Ombudsman’s work has strengthened the institution.
Some of the challenges mentioned by participants were the Ombudsman’s broad mandate and small office size, and how to measure the impact of the Ombudsman’s work over time.
IWhen it comes to the future of the Ombudsman as an institution, participants suggested that probable areas of work would include further developing the Ombudsman’s role as the ethics watchdog, the European Network of Ombudsmen, as well as investigating underexamined and emerging agencies.
6. Communication and cooperation
The Office continued its efforts to promote the work of the European Ombudsman to the widest possible audience. It raised public awareness about specific inquiries, as well as the general role of the Ombudsman in maintaining high accountability and transparency standards in EU administration.
To help further understanding of the Ombudsman’s role, a series of videos was produced to present an overview of the office’s work, and to explain three key areas of work – transparency of EU decision making, public access to EU documents, and upholding ethics standards.
In May, the Ombudsman launched a new logo and visual identity. The logo resembles a bird in flight, while its vantage point signifies the view the Ombudsman has over the EU administration. The presence of the EU flag makes it clear that the Ombudsman is part of the community of EU institutions and bodies.
The EU Ombudsman gets a new look! We are launching our new logo and visual identity #today.
Some highlights about the new design
The EU Ombudsman gets a new look! We are launching our new logo and visual identity today.
Some highlights about the new design:
- The stylised waves of the logo resemble a bird in flight. Its vantage point signifies the view the Ombudsman has over the EU administration.
- The three elements represent the Ombudsman's mission: accountability, transparency and trust.
- The presence of the EU flag makes it clear that we are part of the collection of EU institutions and bodies.
In addition to social media posts, press releases, and news pieces, 2022 saw the launch of the EO express, a regular newsletter giving an overview of the Ombudsman’s recent key inquiries, activities, events, and speeches.
The Ombudsman presented the work of the Office during her annual press conference, held in May. The press conference focused on the findings of her inquiry into how the Commission handles revolving doors, as well as the main aspects of the previous year’s annual report.
There was an increase of 60% in the total number of press articles compared to 2021, with 72% of the media coverage coming from EU countries.
In 2022, the growth in social media followers was considerably higher than in past years. A number of high profile cases and the change of logo, which made the Ombudsman more recognisable as an EU body, contributed significantly to this increase. The Ombudsman's Instagram account saw a 92% growth in total followers (3 472 new followers compared to the 1 195 followers gained in 2021). On LinkedIn, the number of followers increased by 50% (+ 2 990 compared to the 1 148 new followers in 2021). On Twitter, where the Ombudsman has the largest audience amongst the social media channels, the number of followers reached 34 431 in December 2022, which represented a 10% increase (+ 3 089). There was also strong improvement in the engagement rate, as well as a significant jump in mentions. In 2022, we had 63 218 mentions (16 300 in 2021) and an engagement rate of 188 488 (41 500 in 2021). This represented a 118% and a 128% increase respectively compared to the previous year.
Since April 2022, the European Ombudsman is part of a public pilot project – led by the European Data Protection Supervisor and the Commission – to bring EU institutions on free, open-source social media networks, based on Mastodon software.
Finally, the Ombudsman and staff members continued their outreach activities by giving interviews to the press, attending academic conferences, and speaking to visitor groups.
6.2. Relations with EU institutions
6.2.1. European Parliament
A strong relationship with the European Parliament is of paramount importance for the European Ombudsman, who is elected by parliamentarians every five years. Throughout 2022, the European Ombudsman continued to maintain close cooperation and trust with the European Parliament, having been invited to present key inquiries to committee meetings and to participate in parliamentary hearings and workshops on topics related to the EU administration, fundamental rights, and access to documents. This year, the Ombudsman also addressed a plenary session, had a first meeting with the Parliament’s newly elected President Roberta Metsola, and continued to meet with several Members of the European Parliament from across the political spectrum.
6.2.2. Committee on Petitions
Although they have a different focus and mandate, both the European Ombudsman and the Parliament’s Committee on Petitions (PETI) aim to address issues the public may have in relation to the EU and its policies. This is why the Ombudsman’s office highly values its relationship with the Committee and its Members. Throughout 2022, the Ombudsman participated in different events and meetings organised by the Committee, such as a workshop on the rights of people with disabilities. She also met with the Petitions Committee Chair Dolors Montserrat to discuss their continued cooperation when it comes to addressing citizens’ concerns. As in previous years, the PETI Committee also showed cross-party support for the Ombudsman’s work and strategy during the annual exchange of views on the Ombudsman’s activities.
6.2.3. European Commission
As the EU’s executive arm, the Commission’s administrative work receives considerable public attention. It is therefore not surprising that, like in previous years, the largest percentage of complaints received by the Ombudsman concerned the Commission’s work. The working relationship with the Commission and in particular with its Secretariat-General remained very constructive. Commission officials participated in the Conference on the Evolving Role of the Ombudsman in November. In addition, the Ombudsman’s Directorate of Inquiries met with the Commission’s Unit for Ethics, Good Administration and Relations with the European Ombudsman to exchange information on working processes.
6.2.4. Other institutions, agencies, and organisations
As foreseen in her strategy ‘Towards 2024’, the Ombudsman maintains a constructive dialogue with various actors in the EU administration to ensure the continued improvement of administrative practices. In 2022, she met, among others, the Executive Director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), the Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the Chair of the Single Resolution Board (SRB), as well as with staff from the Council of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
6.2.5. UN Disability Rights Convention
The European Union is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), a binding international human rights instrument to ‘promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity’.
Compliance with the UN CRPD in the EU is monitored by the EU Framework for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was chaired by the European Disability Forum in 2022. As a member of this framework, the Ombudsman plays close attention to the EU administration’s implementation of the UN CRPD. The Framework made a contribution, including input from the Ombudsman, to the UN’s CRPD committee, which conducts a periodic review of the EU’s performance in relation to the Convention. The UN committee then published its list of issues. The periodic review process will continue throughout 2023.
In addition, the Ombudsman dealt with important inquiries in 2022 related to the rights of persons with disabilities. In April, she closed her own initiative investigation into how the European Commission monitors EU Structural and Investment funds to ensure they are used to promote the right of persons with disabilities to independent living and inclusion in the community. With the participation of a number of offices from the European Network of Ombudsmen (ENO) and input from civil society organisations, the inquiry concluded with a series of suggestions for improvement to the Commission, which it took into account in its policy projects.
In October 2022, the Ombudsman also hosted a hybrid seminar for ENO members to exchange information and experiences related to the standards of the EU web accessibility directive and its implementation.
Finally, the Ombudsman’s Office presented its work related to the rights of persons with disabilities at several events throughout the year.
"Europe should be at the forefront when it comes to the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities."
Read here the full speech by EU Ombudsman O'Reilly at @EP_Petitions workshop on EU disability rights
“Europe should be at the forefront when it comes to the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.”
Read here the full speech by European Ombudsman O'Reilly at the European Parliament Committee on Petitions’ workshop on EU disability rights.
Emily O’Reilly: “We must always remember that if governments wish to effectively support all their citizens, they must not lose sight of the differences between them.”
6.3. Cooperation with the OECD
During 2022, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) developed a policy paper in collaboration with the European Ombudsman’s Office. The paper provides guidance to governments on ensuring transparency and accountability in the use of COVID-19 recovery funds.
With a specific focus on the funding provided through the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), the paper identifies ways for local, national, and EU administrations to promote access to information, enhance public communication, and strengthen citizen and stakeholder participation and oversight in the implementation phases of recovery funding.
Finally, it highlights the role of regional, national, and supranational organisations in fostering the open government principles of transparency, accountability, and stakeholder participation throughout the public decision making and spending cycle, within the remits of their respective mandates.
6.4. European Network of Ombudsmen
The European Network of Ombudsman (ENO) is an informal network coordinated by the European Ombudsman, which consists of over 95 offices in 36 European countries, as well as the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting refugee crisis had a profound impact on the work of ombudsmen from across Europe in 2022, as they sought to ensure refugees were well treated and monitor how governments were implementing the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive. Consequently, the 2022 ENO annual conference in Strasbourg focused on ‘the role ombudsmen can play in times of crisis.’ The first session saw ombudsmen exchange experiences and best practice for helping refugees. The annual conference also included a session on the effect that the digitalisation of public services has had on citizens’ rights. These discussions focused on the extent to which administrations have taken the needs of citizens into account during the digitalisation process and what can be done to ensure people without digital skills are not left behind.
In October 2022, the European Ombudsman organised an ENO webinar on improving web accessibility and on the queries procedure. The latter allows ENO members to ask questions about EU law that arise during the course of their inquiries. The European Ombudsman then obtains expert replies from the EU institutions. Query topics in 2022 included EU energy efficiency rules, maternity leave in relation to EU funded projects, and the issuing of EU digital COVID certificates to people not vaccinated against COVID-19 due to medical reasons.
Great to meet with the EU Network of Ombudsmen today, in person and online, for a lively discussion around the topics of:
- web #accessibility
- practical aspects of cooperation
More on the European Network of Ombudsmen #ENOnetwork
Great to meet with the European Network of Ombudsmen today, in person and online, for a lively discussion around the topics of:
- web accessibility
- practical aspects of cooperation
More on the European Network of Ombudsmen.
The second half of 2022 also saw the addition of two new ENO members: the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights and the People's Advocate Office of the Republic of Moldova.
The Ombudsman’s budget is an independent section of the EU budget. It is divided into three titles. Title 1 covers salaries, allowances, and other expenditure related to staff. Title 2 covers buildings, furniture, equipment, and miscellaneous operating expenditure. Title 3 covers the expenditure resulting from general functions that the institution carries out. In 2022, budgeted appropriations amounted to EUR 12 222 108.
To ensure the effective management of resources, the Ombudsman’s internal auditor regularly checks the internal control systems and the financial operations that the Office carries out. As is the case with other institutions, the Ombudsman is also subject to the European Court of Auditors’ review, which did not identify any specific issues in the context of its external audit work.
7.2. Use of resources
Every year, the Ombudsman adopts an Annual Management Plan, which identifies specific actions that the office expects to take to meet the objectives and priorities of the Ombudsman’s five-year strategy ‘Towards 2024’. The 2022 Annual Management Plan is the second one based on this strategy.
The Ombudsman has a highly qualified multilingual staff. This ensures that the Office can deal with complaints in the 24 official EU languages and raise awareness about the Ombudsman’s work throughout the EU. The Office’s hybrid work policy, which is results-oriented and trust-based, supports the Ombudsman’s ambition to promote a modern, digital, and flexible work environment.
In 2022, there were 73 posts in the Ombudsman’s establishment plan, in addition to which, there was an average of six contract agents working with the Office. Eighteen trainees also gained work experience at the Ombudsman’s Office over the course of the year.
Detailed information on the structure of the Ombudsman’s Office and the tasks of the various units is available on the Ombudsman’s website.
8. How to contact the European Ombudsman
+33 (0)3 88 17 23 13
1 avenue du Président Robert Schuman
F-67001 Strasbourg Cedex
Bâtiment Václav Havel (HAV)
Bâtiment Froissart (FRS)
Rue Froissart 87
© European Union, 2023
Unless otherwise indicated all photographs and images © European Union,
except the cover (© artpluskr / Adobe Stock and © Lulla / Adobe Stock).
Reproduction for educational and non-commercial purposes is authorised, provided the source is acknowledged.
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