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Ombudsman: EU administration still not citizen-centred enough

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Press release no. 4/2007

03 May 2007

The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, received 3,830 complaints from EU citizens, companies, NGOs and associations in 2006. "The number of complaints thus remains close to the record high levels reached during the two previous years ", explained the Ombudsman at the presentation of his Annual Report 2006 in Brussels.

The Ombudsman noted the rise in the number of critical remarks he had to make to the EU institutions in 2006. "This development should be a cause for concern for everyone who wants better relations between the European Union and its citizens. The way in which the public administration reacts to complaints is a key measure of how citizen-centred it is and how well it contributes to the promotion of a service culture." Mr Diamandouros announced a study on how the EU administration is following up on his critical remarks. The Ombudsman pointed out that the Annual Report for 2006 highlights for the first time cases of best practices in the EU institutions. These include instances where the institutions settled bills, paid interest, released documents, remedied injustices and put an end to discrimination.

One quarter of the inquiries carried out in 2006 concerned lack of transparency in the EU administration, including refusal of information. Among the other types of alleged maladministration were unfairness, payment delays in EU projects, abuse of power, discrimination and unsatisfactory procedures. In 2006, the European Ombudsman dealt with a total of 582 inquiries.

Most of the inquiries in 2006 concerned the European Commission (66%), followed by the European Personnel Selection Office, the European Parliament and the Council. Spain produced the greatest number of complaints (20%), followed by Germany (14%), France (9%) and Belgium (6%). But relative to the size of their population, most complaints came from Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus.

In 2006, the European Ombudsman stepped up his efforts to inform the business community, associations, NGOs, regional authorities and interest groups about his services. Mr Diamandouros said: "At present, only 5% of all complaints I receive come from these groups. But since thousands of companies and associations in all of the Member States are involved in EU projects and calls for tender, I am persuaded that many among them are likely to encounter problems with the EU administration and thus that many more such complaints should reach me."

The Ombudsman's Executive Summary and Statistics 2006 is available in all official EU languages and contains summaries of cases, background information and statistics. It can be downloaded at:


The full Annual Report in English is also available at this web address. It will be available in all the 23 official languages later this year.



How many complaints?

The Ombudsman received 3,830 complaints in 2006. This figure represents a decrease of 2% compared to 2005 (3,920). He dealt with 582 inquiries, of which nine own-initiative inquiries.

What action taken?

The Ombudsman investigates alleged maladministration by EU institutions and bodies. He cannot investigate complaints against national or regional administrations in the Member States, even if these involve Community law.

In almost 70% of cases, the Ombudsman was able to help the complainant by opening an inquiry, transferring the case to the competent body or giving advice on where else to turn.

Against whom?

66% of the inquiries dealt with in 2006 concerned the Commission, followed by the European Personnel Selection Office (13%), the European Parliament (8%) and the Council (2%). Given that the Commission is the main Community institution that makes decisions having a direct impact on citizens, it is normal that it should be the principal object of citizens' complaints.

About what?

Lack or refusal of information (25% of total inquiries), unfairness or abuse of power (19%), unsatisfactory procedures (12%), avoidable delay (9%), discrimination (9%), and negligence (8%) were the main allegations made. The problems ranged from failure to give access to documents to late payments for EU projects to discrimination against EU staff.

From whom?

Spain produced the greatest number of complaints (20%), followed by Germany (14%), France (9%) and Belgium (6%). However, relative to the size of their population most complaints came from Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus. Most complaints were lodged by individual citizens (95%), with companies or associations responsible for the remaining 5%.

A total of 57% of complaints were sent electronically, either by e-mail or using the complaint form on the Ombudsman's website. The Ombudsman's website received 416 533 unique visitors in 2006.

What results?

A total of 64 cases were settled by the institutions following a complaint to the Ombudsman. Three complaints resulted in friendly solutions. In 95 cases, the Ombudsman's inquiry revealed no maladministration.

In 41 cases the Ombudsman made a critical remark. A critical remark is normally made if it is no longer possible to eliminate the instance of maladministration. In cases where maladministration is particularly serious and it is still possible to eliminate it, the Ombudsman makes a draft recommendation. In 2006, 13 draft recommendations were made.

The Ombudsman's final recourse is a special report to the European Parliament. In 2006, two special reports were made.


Information on air passenger rights

The Ombudsman called on the Commission to correct inaccurate and misleading information contained in leaflets, posters and a video presentation on air passenger rights. This followed a complaint to the Ombudsman from two airline associations. They criticised the information provided by the Commission on the rights of travellers to compensation and assistance in the event of denied boarding, cancellation of flights or long delays.

EIB gives access to audit report

The European Investment Bank (EIB) gave partial public access to an audit report, after a complaint was made to the Ombudsman. In addition, it agreed to give the relevant company private access to sections of the report that specifically concerned the group to which the company belonged. The report concerned an EU-funded project in Africa in which the group had participated. The Ombudsman welcomed the constructive approach of the EIB as a model for future access to document cases.

Clearer contracts for EU funding

The Ombudsman advised the Commission to improve the clarity of the contracts it uses to provide Community funding in order to avoid possible misunderstandings concerning the funding of sub-contracting costs. This followed a complaint by a Dutch consultancy against the Commission's decision to recover money for a project under the Fifth Framework Programme. While the Ombudsman did not find maladministration in this case, he suggested that the Commission improve the clarity of these contracts for the future.

Better data protection

The European Commission agreed to review its interpretation of the European Data Protection Directive. This followed a complaint by a German citizen against the public authorities of the State of Hamburg. According to the complainant, the German authorities unlawfully handed over personal data to enterprises, knowing that they would use them for direct marketing purposes. The Commission initially stated that the Data Protection Directive did not provide any protection against this. After the intervention of the Ombudsman it agreed to review its assessment.

Language on EU Presidency websites

The Ombudsman called on the Council to reconsider the choice of languages for the websites of the EU Presidencies. This followed a complaint from a German association which claimed that these websites should be available not only in English and French, but also in German. The Council argued that the Member State holding the Presidency is solely responsible for its website. The Ombudsman disagreed and, following the Council’s rejection of his draft recommendation, brought the matter before the European Parliament.

Access to documents on GMOs

The Ombudsman issued a critical remark against the Commission for its refusal to grant access to documents it had submitted to the WTO on scientific concerns about the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods. This followed a complaint by the environmental NGO, Friends of the Earth, which had asked the Commission for the documents. The Commission eventually granted access to the documents.

The Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the EU institutions, agencies and bodies. Any EU citizen, resident, or an enterprise or association in the EU, can lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman's powers include the right to inspect EU documents, call officials to testify, and to open strategic inquiries on her own initiative. For more information: www.ombudsman.europa.eu

For press inquiries: Ms Gundi Gadesmann, Head of Communication, tel.: +32 2 284 26 09, Twitter: @EUombudsman