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EO express 01/2022

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 asks Commission how it will ensure accountability of recovery fund spending

The Ombudsman has asked the Commission for information on how it intends to ensure transparency and accountability in relation to the use of EU funds meant to help Member States recover from the pandemic. In her letter, the Ombudsman emphasizes the importance of providing accessible information about the loans and grants supported by the EUR700 billion Recovery and Resilience Facility. The letter asks the Commission what measures are in place to ensure transparency in the negotiations of national plans, and how it will ensure public scrutiny of milestones reached by Member States.

Inquiry opened into how ECB handles ‘revolving doors’

The Ombudsman has opened an inquiry into how the European Central Bank (ECB) handles ‘revolving doors.’ The Ombudsman asked the ECB to provide a statistical overview of mid-level and senior staff members that left the bank in 2020 and 2021 to take up positions in the private sector.The ECB should indicate whether it took mitigating measures while the outgoing staff member was still in service, and any post-employment restrictions.

Delay in setting up monitoring mechanism for Croatian border management regrettable, says Ombudsman

Following an inquiry, the Ombudsman said it was regrettable that a monitoring mechanism meant to ensure that border management measures by the Croatian authorities fully comply with fundamental rights was only set up in 2021, three years after Croatia started receiving emergency EU funds. The Ombudsman asked the Commission to take an active role in overseeing the monitoring mechanism and to require concrete information from the Croatian authorities on how it has investigated reports of mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers. The Commission has also been asked to report back within a year on the steps it has taken to strengthen fundamental rights compliance in border operations receiving EU funds.

Ombudsman asks Commission how it ensures transparency in relation to farming policy

The Ombudsman wrote to the Commission to ask how it is ensuring transparency and balanced representation of interests in relation to the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). The information request follows the approval of the new CAP in November 2021, which aims to reduce the environmental impact of farming. The Ombudsman noted that the public needs to be reassured that upcoming decisions related to climate action and environmental protection are not unduly influenced by special interests. The Ombudsman’s initiative aims to assess how the Commission ensures balanced representation of interest representatives involved in the 'Civil Dialogue Groups', as well as transparency regarding the preparation of national plans, and information about beneficiaries of the policy.

European Defence Agency accepts Ombudsman recommendations on revolving doors

The European Defence Agency (EDA) accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendations concerning how it handled applications by its former Chief Executive to take positions at Airbus. The Ombudsman had asked the EDA to in future forbid its senior staff from taking up positions where there is a clear conflict of interest. The Ombudsman also asked the EDA to set out criteria for forbidding such moves and to inform any applicants for senior posts of the criteria. The inquiry decision sets out the Ombudsman's views on when, in the public interest, it is appropriate to forbid an intended job.

Ombudsman asks Frontex to improve its accountability

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. The Ombudsman also asked Frontex to publish its reply to each negative opinion of the Fundamental Rights Officer about a planned activity, and to ensure cultural experts are present during screening interviews.

Commission criticised for how it handled request for access to President’s text messages

The Ombudsman criticised how the Commission handled a request for public access to text messages between its President and the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. The Ombudsman requested the Commission to search again for the relevant messages after her inquiry revealed that no attempt was made to identify if any text messages existed. Referring generally to how the EU administration should treat this issue, the Ombudsman said that "not all text messages should be recorded, but text messages clearly fall under the EU transparency law and so relevant text messages should be." The Commission is due to reply by 26 April 2022.


The EU’s raison d’etre continues to be a peace project

In a speech given at the Basque Country University on 16 March the Ombudsman spoke of the “need to banish the grey clouds that hover over our thinking and talking about democratic values and start to imagine and to live those values practically and concretely, just as millions of Ukrainians have been forced now – not just to imagine – but to live their days in the starkness of war and of death.”

Debate on future of EU should not be 'citizen-washing' exercise

On 22 January, the Ombudsman participated in the Conference on the Future of Europe in Strasbourg, where recommendations by the third and fourth Citizens' Panels were debated by representatives from the EU institutions and national parliaments, civil society organisations and other stakeholders. During her address, the Ombudsman stressed the need for the conference to lead to tangible outcomes: "Without clear action on the proposed ideas, the conference may be seen simply as gesture politics, a hollow exercise in 'citizen-washing'." Watch the Ombudsman's full address here.

European Parliament approves Ombudsman 2020 Annual Report

Members of the European Parliament debated and then voted on the Ombudsman’s annual report for 2020 on 14-15 February. Addressing the plenary in Irish, Ombudsman O'Reilly expressed optimism about the EU's ability to continue protecting the public during the ongoing pandemic: "I am optimistic that the Union will come out of this stronger than before, and I hope that some of these improvements will come from the contribution of my Office, which I often say is a small Office with a big mandate." Watch the full debate on the annual report.

Looking ahead

Conference - The role of ombudsmen in times of crisis

The European Ombudsman and the French Ombudsman will hold a joint conference on 27 April in Strasbourg. The conference will examine how national governments are dealing with refugees from Ukraine and how they are implementing the Temporary Protection Directive. More details to follow soon.