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EO express 02/2023

The EO express brings you an overview of the European Ombudsman's recent activities, including inquiry openings, key findings, speeches and events. It is published six times a year.


Commission should urgently deal with systemic delays to access to documents requests

The Ombudsman has asked the Commission to urgently deal with systemic delays in its handling of access to document requests, noting that a fundamental rethink is needed if the institution is to meet the deadlines set out in the EU transparency regulation. Following an own-initiative inquiry, the Ombudsman found that the Commission failed to meet deadlines in 85% of cases where people asked it to review an initial access decision. She stressed that delays risk rendering the information obtained no longer useful for research or journalism, or that they may prevent citizens from having their say during the decision-making process. To improve the situation, the Ombudsman suggested the Commission dedicate more resources to dealing with confirmatory requests, engage constructively and openly with people requesting documents, and anticipate public-interest topics so that it can be proactively transparent.

Preliminary inquiry findings show lack of transparency in Commission meetings with tobacco lobbyists

The Ombudsman has asked the Commission to respond to preliminary inquiry findings that show a lack of transparency in its interactions with tobacco lobbyists. The findings show that the Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety was the only Directorate-General to proactively publish records of all meetings with tobacco lobbyists irrespective of the seniority of officials involved. Other Directorate-Generals only published meetings involving senior officials. The Ombudsman also found that the Commission did not keep minutes of all meetings with tobacco lobbyists that took place in 2020 and 2021.

Ombudsman asks Commission for details on business trips by senior officials

The Ombudsman has written to the Commission to ask how it deals with requests for business trips by senior staff members that are paid for by third parties. The inquiry follows news that, between 2015 and 2021, the Qatari government or organisations close to it paid for some business trips taken by the Commission’s then Director-General for Mobility and Transport. The Ombudsman’s letter asks the Commission to detail travel costs that have been paid by third parties since 2021 and inquires into how the Commission plans to update its rules related to business trips.

Inquiry opened into how EU staff recruitment test was carried out

The Ombudsman has opened an inquiry into how the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) carried out ‘pre-selection’ tests as part of a procedure to recruit new staff into the EU civil service. A significant number of job candidates have complained to the Ombudsman about the tests, specifically in relation to the requirement that they be exclusively carried out remotely. Candidates cited experiencing technical issues and problems with receiving assistance from EPSO and its contractor.

Ombudsman asks Commission to assess emails with environmental information for disclosure

Following a complaint, the Ombudsman has asked the Commission to assess three emails containing environmental information for potential disclosure. The emails concern the draft EU soil, forest, and climate adaptation strategies. The Commission has so far refused to examine them for disclosure on the grounds that it does not consider them documents within the scope of EU access to documents legislation and has therefore not recorded them in its document management systems. In response, the Ombudsman stressed that the emails should be treated as EU documents, even if they have not been registered, because they concern EU policies, activities, and decisions.

European Data Protection Board should release documents related to international data transfers, says Ombudsman

The Ombudsman has found that the response of the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) to multiple access to documents requests constitutes maladministration. As a result, she has called on the EDPB to release various documents related to international data transfers. They include preparatory documents for EDPB guidelines on international data transfers, draft versions of an EDPB statement on international agreements including data transfers, and a reply to a Member of European Parliament.

Ombudsman recommends Council give full public access to legal opinion related to proposed minimum wage law

Following a complaint, the Ombudsman has called on the Council of the European Union to grant full public access to an opinion from its legal service on the proposed EU directive on adequate minimum wages. The Council had granted partial access to the opinion in May 2021 but argued that full disclosure could undermine a decision-making procedure and related legal advice. The Ombudsman disagreed, finding that the Council had failed to demonstrate how disclosing the document would undermine decision making and that its refusal to grant full public access constituted maladministration.


Reform of European Parliament ethics rules - Ombudsman asks for more details

The Ombudsman has sent a series of questions to European Parliament President Roberta Metsola to aid in the institution’s reflections on improving its ethics and transparency framework. The questions relate to draft reform proposals presented by President Metsola on 8 February and cover issues where the Ombudsman believes there is a need for greater clarity or further information. Several questions concern the committee monitoring the implementation of MEPs’ Code of Conduct, asking whether it will have own-initiative powers, how its independence will be guaranteed, and how its work will be made more transparent. The Ombudsman has also focused on how the various rules will be enforced, such as whether there are measures foreseen if MEPs do not respect the suggested post-mandate ‘cooling off’ period.


Bosnia and Herzegovina joins the European Network of Ombudsmen

The Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina has joined the European Network of Ombudsmen (ENO). The European Ombudsman said she was looked forward to discussing good practice and identifying avenues of cooperation with the new ENO member.


Debate on the 2021 annual report - Ombudsman addresses European Parliament

“With your support, I will continue to do my part in promoting accountability, transparency, and trust in the EU’s bodies and institutions. The EU is not just an economic force in the world, it is also a moral force for good and as such its administration needs to set and lead by example.”

Full speech of the European Ombudsman during the plenary debate on the annual report 2021