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Ombudsman steps up pressure on Commission to deal with complaint concerning working time directive

The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, has sent a special report to the European Parliament, criticising the Commission for not dealing with a complaint concerning the European working time directive. More than five years ago, a German doctor asked the Commission to open proceedings against Germany, alleging that it was infringing the working time directive. Despite pressure from the Ombudsman, the Commission has refrained from taking action on the complaint as such, arguing that its proposals for amending the directive are before the Community legislator. The Ombudsman considers this inaction to be maladministration and has brought the case before the European Parliament.

Mr Diamandouros said: "This case raises an important issue of principle concerning the way the Commission deals with infringement complaints from citizens. The Commission should either reject the complaint, or open infringement proceedings. Simply doing nothing is not in conformity with principles of good administration." In this context, he welcomed ideas put forward recently by the Commission that would enable complainants to play a greater role in infringement proceedings against Member States. "It is encouraging to note that the Commission wants to set short deadlines for Member States to provide necessary clarifications directly to complainants and to remedy breaches of Community law," said the Ombudsman.

The case

In November 2001, a German doctor asked the Commission to open infringement proceedings against Germany. He argued that Germany was in breach of the working time directive, as far as the work of doctors in hospitals and in particular the time spent on call was concerned. In the complainant's view, the overloading of doctors and, as a result of that, their inability to take the minimum periods of rest they need endangers their own health as well as the provision of adequate care for their patients.

As the Commission failed to take action, the doctor turned to the Ombudsman. In response, the Commission explained that it had, in September 2004, proposed changes to the working time directive. It went on to add that it would examine the doctor's complaint in the light of the ongoing discussions in the Council.

The Ombudsman considered that the Commission was not entitled indefinitely to postpone dealing with the complaint on the grounds that the directive may be amended at some time in the future. In September 2006, he urged the Commission to deal with the complaint as rapidly and diligently as possible.

The Commission, however, remained inactive. The Ombudsman has therefore sent a special report to the European Parliament, asking for its support. Since the establishment of the institution in 1995, the Ombudsman has issued only 15 special reports.

To read the special report, please visit:



For information about the case: Mr Gerhard Grill, Principal Legal Advisor, tel: +33 388 172423

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For further information about the Ombudsman's media activities, please contact: Ms Honor Mahony, Acting Head of communication, Tel. +32 (0)2 283 47 33.