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Showing 1 - 20 of 23 results

Decision in case 640/2019/TE on the transparency of the Council of the EU’s decision-making process leading to the adoption of annual regulations setting fishing quotas

Wednesday | 29 April 2020

The complaint concerned the transparency of the decision-making process in the Council of the EU, leading to the adoption of the annual regulations setting total allowable catches (TACs) of certain fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic for 2017, 2018 and 2019. The complaint was submitted by the environmental law organisation ClientEarth.

The complainant was concerned that the Council (1) failed to record the positions of Member States expressed in Council ‘preparatory bodies’ of national civil servants and Ambassadors, as well as in meetings of the Council of Ministers, (2) failed to provide timely access to legislative documents, proactively and upon request, and (3) has in place an incomplete register of documents that is difficult to use.

The Ombudsman took the view that the documents in question are ‘legislative documents’, as defined in the EU rules on public access to documents. In addition, the documents contain ‘environmental information’ within the meaning of the Aarhus Regulation. Wider and more timely access should be granted to such documents. The Ombudsman also found that the Council had not demonstrated that disclosing the documents would seriously affect, prolong or complicate the decision-making process.

The Ombudsman therefore recommended that the Council should proactively make available documents related to the adoption of the TAC Regulation at the time they are circulated to Member States or as soon as possible thereafter.

The Council has chosen not to follow the Ombudsman’s recommendation. This is disappointing. Furthermore, it suggests the Council has failed fully to grasp the critical link between democracy and the transparency of decision-making regarding matters that have a significant impact on the wider public. This is all the more important when the decision-making relates to the protection of the environment.

The Council’s position appears to be that a key democratic standard - legislative transparency - must be sacrificed for what it considers to be the greater good of achieving a consensus on a political issue.

The Ombudsman confirms her finding of maladministration and her recommendation.

Decision in case 306/2018/JAP concerning how the European Commission dealt with an audit of three EU-funded projects

Tuesday | 26 November 2019

The complainant took part in three EU-funded projects in the context of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. Its complaint to the Ombudsman concerned how the European Commission dealt with an audit of the expenditure claimed in the context of the projects.

The auditors found that the complainant’s time-recording system was unreliable. They asked the complainant to provide alternative evidence to substantiate the costs for personnel and other actions. The complainant submitted a number of documents to prove the costs incurred in the projects. However, the Commission rejected them as unreliable and, according to the complainant, decided to recover more than EUR 225 000.

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into how the Commission dealt with the audit, and its decision to recover funds. Her inquiry team met with the Commission’s representatives and inspected its file.

The Ombudsman found that the Commission took the complainant’s allegation that the audit was badly conducted seriously, investigated the matter and assessed the alternative evidence provided.

While the Ombudsman recognises the Commission’s duty to safeguard the financial interests of the EU and acknowledges its efforts to obtain alternative evidence from the complainant, she was not convinced that, by rejecting the personnel costs in full, the Commission had adopted a fair or proportionate approach. Since the Commission, on three separate occasions, rejected a request to consider at least a partial waiver of the recovery, the Ombudsman concluded that further inquiries were unlikely to serve any purpose. She makes a suggestion for improvement to seek to avoid similar cases occurring in future.

Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in case 640/2019/FP on the transparency of the Council of the EU’s decision-making process leading to the adoption of annual regulations setting fishing quotas (total allowable catches)

Friday | 25 October 2019

The complaint concerned the transparency of the decision-making process in the Council of the EU, leading to the adoption of the annual regulations setting total allowable catches (TACs) of certain fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic for 2017, 2018 and 2019. The complaint was submitted by an environmental law organisation.

The complainant was concerned that the Council (1) failed to record the positions of Member States expressed in Council ‘preparatory bodies’ of national civil servants and Ambassadors, as well as in meetings of the Council of Ministers, (2) failed to provide timely access to legislative documents, and (3) has in place an incomplete register of documents that is difficult to use.

The Ombudsman is of the view that the documents in question are in fact legislative documents. In addition, the documents contain environmental information, as defined in the Aarhus Regulation. Wider and more timely access should therefore be granted to such documents.

The Ombudsman also found that the Council had not demonstrated that disclosing the documents in question would seriously affect, prolong or complicate the decision-making process.

The Ombudsman therefore recommends that the Council should proactively make available documents related to the adoption of the TAC Regulation at the time they are circulated to Member States or as soon as possible thereafter.

Decision in case 910/2018/THH on the European Commission’s refusal to make public its assessment of sanctioning systems used by Member States to enforce the common fisheries policy

Thursday | 23 May 2019

The complaint concerned the refusal of the European Commission to grant an NGO full public access to three documents concerning the Commission’s assessment of the sanctioning systems used by EU Member States to ensure compliance with the EU’s common fisheries policy.

The Ombudsman found that the refusal to make the documents public was justified by the need to protect ongoing investigations and audits and the Commission’s decision-making process.

The Ombudsman therefore found no maladministration and closed the inquiry.

Decision in case 1474/2018/TE on alleged shortcomings and biases in the European Commission’s preparation of its policy and legislative proposal on the reduction of single-use plastic products

Friday | 22 March 2019

In May 2018, the European Commission adopted its legislative proposal for a Single Use Plastics Directive. The proposal sets out EU-wide rules targeting the ten single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas. The proposed rules include a ban on certain single-use plastic products, including food and beverage service products.

The complaint concerned a possible conflict of interest situation in the Commission’s preparation of its policy and legislative proposal on the reduction of single-use plastic products. The complainant also alleged that the Commission had failed to comply with its own Better Regulation Guidelines.

The Ombudsman understood that the complainant, an association representing manufacturers of food and drink packaging, was mainly dissatisfied with the substance of the Commission’s legislative proposal. While her inquiries will sometimes reveal issues with legislation, the Ombudsman has no mandate to open inquiries into the merits of EU legislation, nor into the merits of legislative proposals presented by the Commission to the EU legislature. The Ombudsman’s inquiry in the present case therefore focused on the administrative activity of the Commission in preparing the legislative proposal.

In this context, the Ombudsman examined the Commission’s tendering process for the preparation of the study underlying the EU Plastics Strategy and the legislative proposal for a Single Use Plastics Directive. She also carefully examined the compliance of the Commission with its Better Regulation Guidelines in the public consultation and impact assessment carried out in this context.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry did not bring to light any instance of maladministration. She therefore closed the case.

Decision in case 1317/2017/PB on the European Commission’s follow-up to EU Court judgments relating to requests to increase the capacity of Irish fishing vessels

Wednesday | 27 February 2019

The case concerned the European Commission’s follow-up to EU Court judgments annulling the Commission’s decisions refusing requests made in 2001 to increase the capacity of a number of Irish fishing vessels.

The complainants claimed that the Commission should have proposed to the EU’s legislature that it adopt new legislation to create a legal basis for taking a decision on the requests, or pay compensation.

While the Ombudsman is mindful that mistakes were made and that the complainants have suffered from a lack of legal certainty since 2001, her focus in this case was on verifying what, if any, action the Commission could take.

The Ombudsman finds that the Commission has adequately explained why it decided not to propose new legislation. She also finds that the Commission’s refusal to pay compensation was based on a reasonable interpretation of the rules in question. This part of the Ombudsman’s assessment did not involve a full examination of whether the strict conditions set out in EU law for paying damages have been fulfilled. In light of the very unusual circumstances of the case, and the amounts involved (30-50 million euros), that review could be carried out by the Court alone, in response to an action for damages by the complainants.

As a result, the Ombudsman closes this case with a finding of no maladministration.