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Closing note on the Strategic Initiative with the European Commission to improve the Transparency Register (SI/7/2016/KR)

Donderdag | 27 juni 2019

The Transparency Register was set up by the European Commission and Parliament in 2011 to allow the public to monitor the activities of interest representatives (or “lobbyists”) who seek to influence the formulation and implementation of EU legislation and policy. Overall, the Register has been successful and while there are gaps, it is improving over time.

In 2016, the Commission organised a public consultation on several proposed reforms aimed at improving the Transparency Register.

In this context, the Ombudsman opened a ‘strategic initiative’, to contribute to this important debate and to monitor developments by writing to the Commission on the issue.

In January 2018, inter-institutional negotiations began between the Parliament, the Council of the EU and the Commission on the Commission’s proposal to revise and improve the Transparency Register. These negotiations have not yet led to a successful outcome.

The Ombudsman encourages the incoming Parliament, the Council and the incoming Commission to renew their efforts to improve the Transparency Register given the importance of this matter for public trust in the EU.

Decision of the European Ombudsman in her strategic inquiry OI/4/2016/EA into how the European Commission treats persons with disabilities under the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme for EU staff

Donderdag | 04 april 2019

In 2015, a UN Committee found that the health insurance scheme for EU staff members, the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme (JSIS), does not comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The committee recommended that the JSIS be revised to offer comprehensive coverage for disability-related health needs.

After receiving complaints from staff members, who had encountered problems getting their own or their family members’ medical expenses fully reimbursed, the Ombudsman conducted a strategic inquiry. She found that the failure of the European Commission to take any effective action in response to the committee’s recommendation amounted to maladministration. She thus recommended that the Commission revise the rules governing the JSIS. She also made a number of suggestions to the Commission relating to how the needs of persons with disabilities are covered under the JSIS, as well as on the need to train staff and properly consult stakeholders to ensure the JSIS reflects the needs of persons with disabilities.

The Commission replied, stating that it will revise the rules governing the JSIS and will take action to follow up on most of the Ombudsman’s suggestions.

As the Commission has accepted her recommendation, the Ombudsman closes her strategic inquiry. Given the importance of the issue, she asks the Commission to report back within six months on the implementation of the recommendation. The Ombudsman also confirms her suggestion on the need for the Commission to review its 2004 rules on accommodating the needs of staff with disabilities.

Decision in case 747/2016/PL on the European Food Safety Authority's use of the Threshold of Toxicological Concern

Maandag | 17 december 2018

The case concerned how the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) uses the Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC). The TTC is a risk assessment tool based on the principle that there are exposure levels below which chemicals do not pose a significant risk to human health.

In 2014, EFSA and the World Health Organisation (WHO) hosted an expert workshop to review the science underlying the TTC concept. The conclusions of the workshop were subject to a public consultation and were published in March 2016.

The complainant, an NGO, questioned EFSA’s use of the TTC concept as it considered that it does not reflect current scientific evidence. It also said that many of the experts who took part in the workshop had conflicts of interests.

The European Ombudsman’s Office is not a scientific body and cannot take a view on the merits of a particular risk assessment tool, such as the TTC. On the basis of the review carried out in this case, the Ombudsman found EFSA’s explanations on the use of TTC to be reasonable.

Concerning the experts who took part in the workshop, the Ombudsman found that, in this particular case, EFSA was not obliged to screen them for conflicts of interests since it was reasonable for it to rely on the WHO’s prior screening of these experts.

The Ombudsman concluded that there was no maladministration by EFSA.

However, the Ombudsman suggested that EFSA see to it that experts who participate in conferences or meetings have no conflicts of interests, where the conference or meeting — like the one at issue — is organised to inform EFSA’s decision-making process, or could be perceived as doing so.

Decision in case 212/2016/JN on the European Commission’s annual reviewing of Member States’ export credit agencies

Maandag | 03 december 2018

The case concerned the adequacy of the European Commission’s annual reviewing of export credit agencies — national bodies that give financial support to companies doing business in risky markets — in particular with respect to the protection of human rights and the environment.

The Ombudsman inquired into the matter and found that the Commission’s methodology and procedures could be improved. In particular, the Ombudsman recommended that the Commission should engage in a dialogue with Member States and other stakeholders with a view to improving the template used by Member States to compile the reports on export credit agencies which they are required to submit to the Commission each year. The Ombudsman also recommended that the Commission, for its part, should enhance the analysis and evaluation content of the annual reviews of export credit agencies which it submits to the European Parliament.

The Commission informed the Ombudsman that it would consult the Council, Parliament and the European External Action Service, and engage with civil society, in order to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations. In particular, the Commission will propose to the Council Working Group on Export Credits a revised checklist template to be used by Member States for their annual reports. The Commission will also consider drawing up relevant guidance for Member States’ reporting.

As the measures announced by the Commission adequately address the Ombudsman’s recommendations, the Ombudsman closed her inquiry but asked the Commission to report back within one year.

Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in case 212/2016/JN on the European Commission’s annual reviewing of Member States’ export credit agencies

Woensdag | 23 mei 2018

The case concerned the adequacy of the European Commission’s annual reviewing of export credit agencies - national bodies that give financial support to companies doing business in ‘risky’ markets - in particular with respect to the protection of human rights and the environment.

The Ombudsman inquired into the matter and found that the Commission’s methodology and procedures could be improved. In particular, she suggested that the Commission should engage in a dialogue with Member States and other stakeholders with a view to improving the template used by Member States in compiling the reports on export credit agencies which they are required to submit to the Commission each year. The Ombudsman also proposed that the Commission, for its part, should enhance the analysis and evaluation content of the annual reviews of export credit agencies which it submits to the European Parliament.

The Commission rejected the Ombudsman’s proposals mainly because it considers that their implementation would require an amendment to the existing legislation. The Ombudsman disagreed with the Commission’s position and has now made recommendations to the Commission in the same terms as those of her earlier proposals.  The Ombudsman believes that the Commission’s annual review, which it sends to Parliament, should amount to more than a compilation of the content of the annual reports received from the Member States and that it should contain an informed and detailed evaluation of the performance of the export credit agencies, particularly, as regards respect for human rights and the environment.