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Impact of the European Ombudsman

The Ombudsman opens around 350 inquiries each year. Positive change arising from these inquiries often emerges gradually as the EU institutions adjust to new norms concerning good administration. Engaged collaboration with the EU institutions, bodies, and agencies, as well as pressure on the EU administration from complainants, media, civil society, Members of the European Parliament, and EU courts also help to achieve positive results.

Below are some examples of positive change in key areas of Ombudsman inquiries over recent years:

Accountability in decision making

Situation previously Situation now

Lack of transparency concerning EU trade negotiations.

EU trade policy has transparency as one of its pillars. Negotiating mandates are made public.

Difficult for public to scrutinise Eurogroup decision making.

Eurogroup meetings are summarised in more detail. Online repository of publicly available Eurogroup documents.

No separate procedure for appointing the Secretary-General of the Commission.

Separate procedure (e.g. COM/2019/2886) for appointing the Secretary-General.

More clarity needed about how the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) takes decisions.

ECDC explains reasoning for decisions and is committed to more accessible communication with the public.

Lack of transparency concerning decision making by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA).

EIOPA publishes its Board of Supervisors’ voting records on draft regulatory standards.

Meetings held between the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and pharmaceutical companies ahead of market access applications raise accountability questions.

EMA has strengthened its objectivity and independence in relation to meetings between its representatives and pharmaceutical companies.

Room for improvement in how the European Central Bank (ECB) engages with stakeholders.

ECB took steps to avoid any risk of potentially market-sensitive information being shared with restricted audiences.

Lobbying transparency and ethics

Situation previously Situation now

Code of Conduct for Commissioners: notification period concerning post-term employment is too short. Ethics committee’s assessment of Commissioners’ new jobs not published.

Code of Conduct strengthened: Notification periods lengthened, rules on declaration of financial interests tightened. Proactive publication of assessment of Commissioners’ post-term employment.

Expert groups: lack of detailed information about these groups, which give expert input to the Commission.

Meeting minutes of expert groups published, public calls for applications are standard for group membership, link to Transparency Register.

Perception that corporate sponsorship of Council of EU presidencies could give a sponsor influence over EU policy and law-making.

Council guidelines for Member States intending to have corporate sponsorship of their presidency.

Lobbying awareness: limited training or guidelines on interactions with lobbyists. No records of meetings between Commissioners and lobbyists.

List of Dos and Don’ts’ for EU officials interacting with lobbyists, used by Commission. Public record of meetings between Commissioners with lobbyists. Transparency portal established. Commission and Parliament provide training on lobbying awareness.

Revolving doors: lack of awareness about potential conflicts of interest and negative effects on public trust.

Far wider awareness of potential problems caused by ‘revolving door’ cases. Names and new posts of senior staff moving to entities potentially active in lobbying and advocacy are published annually.

Conflicts of interest assessment during public tenders: no possibility under EU Financial Regulation to exclude applicants for tenders on conflicts of interest grounds.

The Commission has proposed amending the Financial Regulation to include the possibility to reject tenderers if they have a professional conflict of interest.

Access to documents

Situation previously Situation now

Inadequate prioritisation of access to document inquiries.

Many EU institutions agree with Ombudsman’s Fast-Track approach, allowing it to issue findings within 40 working days.

Lack of transparency around clinical trials results for medicines.

European Medicines Agency grants access to clinical trials documents.

Commissioner travel expenses and miscellaneous costs for work trips not published.

Commission proactively publishes commissioner travel expenses and miscellaneous costs for work trips.

Lack of uniform approach to dealing with the public’s rights regarding access to EU documents.

Ombudsman guidelines for institutions on how best to give effect to public’s right to access EU documents.

New communication tools pose challenges for EU administration in the area of public access to documents.

Wider awareness of this challenge.

Best practices for recording work-related text messages published.

Legislative transparency

Situation previously Situation now

Trilogues: no information about dates, agenda, and negotiators present for inter-institutional negotiations on draft laws.

Trilogue calendars and agendas are often published in advance and lead negotiators named. Work on a joint legislative database is underway.

Council legislative transparency: little information available on evolution of draft legislation through the Council.

Council proactively publishes report on negotiations on draft laws, as well as its mandate for legislative negotiations with the Parliament.

Fundamental rights

Situation previously Situation now

Lack of redress for migrants and refugees who felt their fundamental rights had been breached.

Frontex and the EU Agency for Asylum have set up complaints mechanisms for allegations of fundamental rights breaches.

Rights of persons with disabilities: room for improvement in implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Commission improves accessibility of its website and online tools for persons with disabilities.

EU funds: a lack of oversight on whether EU funds are being spent in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Improved Commission oversight to ensure that spending does not further marginalise certain groups.

Trainees in European External Action Service (EEAS) delegations are unpaid.

Trainees in EEAS delegations receive an allowance to cover expenses and cost of living.

Use of EU languages: lack of clarity about how EU institutions use the EU’s official languages in their public communication.

Ombudsman recommendations on the use of EU languages when communicating with the public.

European Ombudsman statute: Law governing how the Ombudsman operates does not require ‘cooling-off’ period for politicians running to become Ombudsman.

Revised statute confirms the Ombudsman’s powers and requires two-year ‘cooling-off' period for politicians running to be Ombudsman.