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EO express 03/2022

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 on EU institutions to ensure accountability in an era of instant messaging

The Ombudsman has said her findings concerning the Commission’s handling of an access request for text messages between its President and the CEO of a pharmaceutical company is a wake-up call for all EU institutions when it comes to ensuring accountability in an era of instant messaging. A year after the initial request from a journalist, the Commission has still not clarified whether the texts concerning a major vaccine purchase even exist. As a result, the Ombudsman upheld her finding of maladministration. To help improve the situation, the Ombudsman also published new practical recommendations for the EU administration on recording texts and instant messages.

Ombudsman asks Council how it ensures transparency in the process leading to the adoption of sanctions

Noting the strong public interest in sanctions adopted by the Council to stop Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, the Ombudsman asked the Council how it ensures transparency in the adoption process. The Ombudsman said that while relevant Council Regulations and Council Decisions are available via the Council’s public register, the Council is not disclosing other key documents related to the adoption of sanctions. She asked the Council to consider whether it could proactively make any additional documents available to the public.

Public access to documents concerning quality of medical masks came too late, says Ombudsman

The Ombudsman confirmed her finding of maladministration in a case regarding access to documents concerning 1.5 million medical masks the Commission had purchased at an early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic that did not meet the required quality standard. The Commission granted greater access to documents following the Ombudsman’s recommendation, but this access came too late to be of use to the complainant (two years after the initial request) and did not include access to all the documents in their entirety.

Ombudsman asks Commission how it ensures respect for fundamental rights in EU-funded migration management facilities in Greece

The Ombudsman has written to the European Commission to ask how it ensures fundamental rights are respected in Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres, which house hundreds of refugees on Greek islands. These centres receive funding through the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and Internal Security Fund. The Ombudsman’s own-initiative inquiry into this issue follows concerns raised by civil society organisations, as well as the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.

Ombudsman says Council should give faster public access to legislative documents

The Ombudsman has asked the Council to grant faster access to legislative documents so that the public can effectively participate in discussions on draft EU laws. A network of journalists first asked for access to Member States’ initial comments and questions on the draft Digital Markets Act in March 2021, but the Council only released them on May 2022, following a recommendation from the Ombudsman and after legislative discussions on the draft law had wrapped up. As a result, the Ombudsman stressed the need for the Council to release documents while they are still useful.

Ombudsman looks into how EU Asylum Agency complies with its fundamental rights obligations

The Ombudsman has asked the EU Asylum Agency how it complies with its fundamental rights obligations and ensures accountability for potential fundamental rights violations. The Asylum Agency replaced the European Asylum Support Office in January 2022, taking on an expanded mandate in the process. This mandate includes an obligation to protect the fundamental rights of asylum seekers, including by appointing a fundamental rights officer and establishing a complaints mechanism.


Speech on what ombudsmen can do to help refugees

In a speech to the Plenary Assembly of the National Conference of the Regional Parliaments (Italy) on 20 June, the European Ombudsman shared insights into what ombudsmen can do to help ensure refugees get the support they need. She brought up the importance of having a presence at shelters and reception centres so that ombudsmen can intervene promptly when problems come up and provide vulnerable people with legal advice and information. She also mentioned the need to provide psychological support to refugees, to help refugees find employment, and to remain alert to the dangers of human trafficking.

Ombudsman emphasises key role transparency plays in enabling citizens to trust public institutions

On 9 June, the Ombudsman took part in a conference on ethics and transparency organised by the French High Authority for Transparency in Public Life. During a debate on whether transparency is a necessary condition to strengthen citizens' confidence in institutions, the Ombudsman stressed that “People can accept a lot and sacrifice a lot if they trust that their governments are telling them the truth and acting only in the public interest. Transparency is one of the biggest enablers of that trust. And that is why it matters.”

Read the Ombudsman’s full speech.