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Strategy of the European Ombudsman - “Towards 2019”

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The Ombudsman institution throughout the world is an icon of democracy and of the rule of law. It serves both as an independent check on the power of government and public administration and as a vehicle through which citizens can have their complaints heard and their rights vindicated by an independent, accessible and impartial office outside of the traditional courts system.

Its establishment in the European Union following the 1992 Maastricht Treaty was intended to deepen the democratic legitimacy of the EU institutions. It was also an acknowledgment of the growing reach of those institutions into the everyday lives of member state citizens with a consequent need to ensure that institutional power would not be used in an unfair, unjust or arbitrary manner.

The office of the European Ombudsman will shortly enter its third decade and I was honoured last year to be elected Ombudsman by the European Parliament following in the footsteps of Mr Jacob Söderman and Professor Nikiforos Diamandouros.

My predecessors helped to embed consciousness of the new institution into the mind-set of the EU administration. Through their skill and influence, and the support of a highly competent and dedicated staff, they brought about significant improvements in the efficiency, transparency and integrity of the public administration. They also secured redress for thousands of individuals, members of civil society and businesses, who had been poorly served by the institutions of the EU.

My role and ambition now is to bring the European Ombudsman on to the next level of influence, relevance, and effectiveness. The strategy outlined in these pages is intended to do that, covering the period until 2019, and is the result of many months of dialogue with my own staff but also with many representatives of civil society, of business, heads of EU institutions and with the European Parliament. It aims to utilise our resources in a highly strategic way by identifying those areas of EU public administration where we can be most effective.

Emily O'Reilly

November 2014

1. Mission and overview of role

Our mission is to serve democracy by working with the institutions of the European Union to create a more effective, accountable, transparent and ethical administration.

How we do it

The Ombudsman's independence is guaranteed by the Treaties.

We employ highly skilled and multilingual staff that assess citizen complaints against the EU institutions and secure redress when appropriate.

The Ombudsman also investigates matters of significant public importance or principle through own initiative inquiries.

The Ombudsman further influences the development of good administrative practice in the EU institutions through outreach, through the production of guidelines and codes of good practice, and through Special Reports to the European Parliament.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights enshrines the right of EU citizens to complain to the Ombudsman. Companies, associations, and third country nationals resident in the EU also enjoy this right. The Ombudsman can deal with complaints about breaches of Charter rights, as well as other cases of maladministration. The Ombudsman therefore empowers citizens by helping them to realise their fundamental rights. In addition to the right to good administration citizens have the right to know what the EU institutions are doing (transparency) and the right to participate in their activities. The Ombudsman is therefore central to the task of ensuring that all of those rights are enforced and protected by the EU institutions.

Finally, the Ombudsman promotes good governance and a culture of public service by helping the EU administration to work openly, effectively, and with integrity.

Practising what we preach

We try to practise what we preach to others. That includes acknowledging our own mistakes, welcoming scrutiny and being ready to learn from experience.

Five guiding principles constitute the framework for all our activities, internal and external:

  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Dialogue
  • Service
  • Fairness

Our commitment to our staff

We aim to provide a positive and collaborative working environment in which each person is treated with dignity and respect and where each person has the possibility of developing their professional career ambitions in line with the needs and obligations of the institution.

2. The Strategy

The Strategy serves multiple purposes. It

  • sets the high-level objectives which the Ombudsman's Office seeks to achieve through its various concrete operations (explained in the Operating Framework[1]).
  • provides a multi-year framework for the economical, efficient and effective use of the human and financial resources provided to the Office by the budgetary authority.
  • constitutes a benchmark for external stakeholders to evaluate our performance and hold us to account.

Our strategic objectives

Our strategy is to combine three mutually re-enforcing objectives.

We aim to achieve significant relevance within the EU and with our stakeholders; we aim to ensure high visibility of the Ombudsman and the Office in support of our mission; we aim to effect a real and positive impact on the EU administration.

These objectives are supported by the internal objective of efficiency.

Objective 1 – ensure relevance

We want to add value for citizens and other stakeholders by focusing on key systemic issues that are most relevant to their interests and concerns.


1. Strengthen our role as an acknowledged, trusted and independent authority on issues relevant to the Ombudsman's mandate, providing leadership on transparency, accountability and integrity.

2. Engage with our stakeholders and seek out their views.

3. Publicly engage in, and contribute to, relevant EU debates and policy developments wherever the Ombudsman's mandate and expertise provides for added value.

4. Cooperate with international networks and organisations in order to identify the highest standards and best practices, for example in relation to human/fundamental rights, or governance issues such as whistleblowing and conflicts of interest.

5. Deepen our capacity to understand the changing dynamics of the European Union and the political, social, economic and legal context in which we operate.

Objective 2 – achieve greater impact

We want to make a real difference to the quality of the work of the EU institutions by acting as a driver of change in key areas.


1. Proactively identify areas of key strategic importance and target appropriate resources on the investigation of systemic problems, in particular through own-initiative inquiries.

2. Develop an integrated approach towards strategic investigations, benefiting from the cross-sectoral expertise in the Ombudsman's office.

3. Develop instruments to enable a more systematic and thorough follow up of the outcomes of the Ombudsman's recommendations and remarks.

4. Strengthen and leverage co-operation and dialogue with the EU institutions and other stakeholders to support the Ombudsman's recommendations.

5. Utilise, in an appropriate and prudent manner, the full scope of the powers of the Ombudsman's Statute, using all available tools and options at our disposal depending on the case.

Objective 3 – maintain high visibility

We want to enhance our ability to influence. Public and institutional awareness of the Ombudsman needs to be stronger and deeper.


1. Use our communication capacity strategically to inform both general public, key target audiences and other stakeholders.

2. Develop our online tools and channels as more effective instruments of communication.

3. Engage widely and strategically with the European Parliament and its committees on the broad range of issues of mutual concern, while maintaining our independence.

4. Co-operate with the European Network of Ombudsmen in communicating with citizens.

5. Identify and develop articulate and authoritative office representatives capable of representing the Ombudsman at key events and conferences and who can also identify networking and outreach opportunities.

Objective 4 – improve our efficiency

We want to use our resources to achieve the best possible results.


1. Ensure the Ombudsman's budgetary resources are used in line with the strategy.

2. Ensure all our internal processes and units, including IT systems, work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

3. Develop smart, flexible and robust working practices, so as to prioritise and resolve complaints as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

4. Encourage an internal culture of transparency, ethics, innovation and service to citizens.

5. Further develop the Office as an attractive, dynamic and important place to work for motivated, talented and ambitious people, by ensuring that our human resources policies are central to our strategy, well developed and well-resourced.

3. Implementation and measurement

Concrete actions to achieve the above objectives and priorities will be planned and evaluated on an annual basis through the processes for establishing the Annual Management Plan (AMP) and the Annual Activity Report (AAR). In the period covered by the current Strategy, the process for establishing the AMP will be as follows:

In the autumn, the Ombudsman issues guidelines for activities in the forthcoming year based on the objectives and priorities of the Strategy. The guidelines indicate the financial and human resources that are expected to be available to the Office. In light of the guidelines, the managers of operational units propose concrete actions and explain

  • how the proposed actions will contribute to achieving the objectives and priorities of the Strategy;
  • the resources needed to carry them out; and
  • how the necessary resources will be made available (in particular, and where necessary, through efficiency gains and/or by reducing the resources devoted to other activities).

Following internal discussion and coordination, the Ombudsman decides on the AMP.

Evaluation, measurement and reporting

The first Strategy established a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) linked to its objectives. A scoreboard was produced on a semi-annual and annual basis and results were reported in the AAR.

The experience with the KPIs and scoreboard is very positive. They have proved effective for purposes of internal management and external reporting through the AAR.

The KPIs need to be revised in order to take account of the objectives and priorities of the current Strategy. In order to ensure their usefulness and relevance, the new KPIs will be carefully drafted and subjected to thorough internal consultation before being published on the Ombudsman's website at the same time as the AMP 2015.

4. Review

This strategy will be reviewed mid-term after a public consultation.

[1] http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/resources/strategy/home.faces