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Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in case 1708/2015/ANA on the European Commission’s refusal to grant public access to documents related to the use of GMOs as food or feed

Luni | 03 septembrie 2018

This case, brought by Greenpeace, concerns the Commission's refusal to grant public access to documents taken into account by the Commission when preparing its proposal to amend EU legislation on the use of GMOs as food or feed.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that the Commission’s refusal to give full public access to the requested documents is not in line with Regulation 1049/2001.

This constitutes maladministration. The Ombudsman recommends that the Commission give full access to the documents in question.

Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in her strategic inquiry OI/4/2016/EA against the European Commission on whether the treatment of persons with disabilities under the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Marți | 10 mai 2016

Made in accordance with Article 3(6) of the Statute of the European Ombudsman[1] EU staff members and their families are covered by a sickness insurance scheme, known as the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme (‘JSIS’). In October 2015, following a review conducted under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (‘UNCRPD’), the UN Committee recommended that the European Union should...

Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in case 934/2018/RM on the European Commission’s failure to deal with a request for access to briefing documents for the Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources within an acceptable time frame

Joi | 31 mai 2018

The case concerned a request for access to briefing documents prepared for meetings of the Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources and his advisors with third parties. The Commission has not taken a decision on the request after more than a year.

In the course of the inquiry, the Commission indicated that it was still not in a position to take a decision. The Ombudsman found that this delay constituted maladministration, and recommended that the Commission take a decision without delay and provide the complainant with a list of all the documents covered by his request.  

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

Miercuri | 23 mai 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.

Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in joint cases 488/2018/KR and 514/2018/KR on the European Commission’s appointment of a new Secretary-General

Marți | 08 mai 2018

Made in accordance with Article 3(6) of the Statute of the European Ombudsman [1]

Following two complaints to her office, the Ombudsman conducted an inquiry into how Mr Martin Selmayr, the then Head of Cabinet [2] of the President of the European Commission, was appointed Secretary-General of the Commission in February 2018.

The outgoing Secretary-General, Mr Italianer, who had indicated his intention to retire to President Juncker in 2018 when he was first appointed in 2015, was replaced by Mr Selmayr without a competition and without any formal consideration of other candidates. As the vacancy was not published, no other candidates could apply.

This was not unprecedented. However in order to be fully eligible for such a direct reassignment, Mr Selmayr first had to apply to become Deputy Secretary-General. Such a position became vacant in January 2018, shortly after the then Secretary-General had confirmed to the Commission President his decision to retire in March 2018. This information was known at that time only by the President and by Mr Selmayr.

Mr Selmayr and another member of the Cabinet were the only two applicants for Deputy Secretary-General. The other member withdrew before the process was completed. Preparatory steps for appointing Mr Selmayr as Secretary-General were already being taken one day before the formal completion of the selection process for Deputy Secretary-General.

On Wednesday, 21 February 2018, the College of Commissioners approved the appointment of Mr Selmayr first as Deputy Secretary-General and then his reassignment as Secretary-General just minutes later, following the announcement during the meeting that the then Secretary-General would step down in March. The retirement of Mr Italianer had not been on the agenda.

Based on the inspection of Commission documents, the Ombudsman inquiry has identified several issues of concern:

  • Mr Selmayr did not recuse himself in January 2018 from the decision-making that led to the creation of the vacancy, and the approval of the vacancy notice, for the post of Deputy Secretary-General, despite the fact that it is highly likely he knew that he would apply for the post and later did so.
  • At that point Mr Selmayr had to recuse himself from taking part in the Consultative Committee on Appointments (CCA), which interviews and gives an opinion on the merits of candidates. However, contrary to the applicable binding rules, no replacement was appointed.
  • Documentary evidence of the sequencing of events shows that the Deputy Secretary-General appointment procedure was not undertaken to fill that post, but rather to make Mr Selmayr eligible for his immediate reassignment as the new Secretary-General.
  • When valid concerns were raised in relation to how the surprise double-appointments were made, the Commission reacted in an evasive, defensive and legalistic manner, which served further to increase concerns.

The European Parliament debated the issue and passed a resolution in plenary on 18 April 2018. Given the facts of the inquiry, the Ombudsman agrees with its assessment that the affair damaged trust in EU institutions and that the double-appointments “stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law”.

Based on her inquiry, the Ombudsman now recommends that the Commission develop a specific appointment procedure for Secretary-General, separate from the procedure for other senior appointments.

[1] Decision of the European Parliament of 9 March 1994 on the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of Ombudsman's duties (94/262/ECSC, EC, Euratom), OJ 1994 L 113, p. 15.

[2] The French term “Cabinet” is frequently used to describe the private offices of Commissioners.

Recommendation in case 1311/2016/TM on how the European Aviation Safety Agency dealt with a safety report

Miercuri | 14 februarie 2018

The case concerned how the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) dealt with a ‘safety report’ submitted by an aircraft maintenance mechanic working at a maintenance base at an airport in the EU. The complainant was unhappy that the EASA had also failed to inform him about the follow-up to his report.  

The Ombudsman found that the EASA had complied with its obligations under the applicable rules, and had investigated the report in an appropriate manner. As a result, she concluded that there was no maladministration concerning this aspect of the complaint.

The complainant’s report was handled under the EASA’s Confidential Safety Reporting (CSR) rules. Under these rules, people making reports are informed that they will not be notified of the follow-up to their report. The Ombudsman notes that ensuring public trust in reporting in the public interest is an essential aspect of good governance. She found that the EASA’s practice, of not providing follow-up information on the reports it receives, constitutes maladministration, as this practice could undermine confidence in the reporting mechanism. The Ombudsman therefore recommends that the EASA revise the CSR procedure to ensure that feedback on the outcome of CSR procedures is given to those making reports to the EASA.

The Ombudsman welcomes the fact that, in the course of her inquiry, the EASA put in place a dedicated online tool for Confidential Safety Reporting, though it does not as of yet provide for the giving of feedback to the person making a report.

Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in case OI/2/2017/TE on the Transparency of the Council legislative process

Vineri | 10 martie 2017

Made in accordance with Article 3(6) of the Statute of the European Ombudsman[1] EU citizens have a treaty-based right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Citizens cannot properly exercise this right unless the EU legislative process is sufficiently open to allow citizens to participate and also to hold their elected representatives accountable. Increased accountability regarding t...

Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in case 1419/2016/JN on the European Commission’s failure to reply to a Czech citizen concerning statements made by the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality in relation to the Stork’s Nest Case (“Kauza Čapí hnízdo“) on Czech radio

Vineri | 02 februarie 2018

The complaint arose from the failure of the European Commission to reply to the complainant’s correspondence regarding statements made by the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality with respect to the “Stork’s Nest Case” (in Czech: “Kauza Čapí hnízdo”) on Czech Radio. The complainant believed that the Commissioner’s statements were unethical and not compatible with her obligations as an EU Commissioner.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that the Commissioner’s statements were not compatible with her obligations as an EU Commissioner. The Ombudsman found maladministration on the part of the Commission collectively arising from its failure to recognise that the Commissioner’s statements were not compatible with her obligations as a Commissioner. The Ombudsman recommended to the Commission that it remind the Commissioner of the need to exercise due caution in future interviews. The Ombudsman noted that the new Code of Conduct for Commissioners, due to come into effect on 1 February 2018, reminds Commissioners generally of their obligations when speaking publicly.

Recommendations of the European Ombudsman on the involvement of the President of the European Central Bank and members of its decision-making bodies in the ’Group of Thirty’ (1697/2016/ANA)

Luni | 15 ianuarie 2018

This inquiry is based on a complaint concerning the involvement of the European Central Bank (ECB) in the ‘Group of 30’ organisation, based in Washington DC.

It specifically concerns whether the President of the ECB should continue as a member of the “G30” and whether he and the members of the ECB’s decision-making bodies should continue to participate in G30 activities. The members of the G30 include senior public officials, private sector bankers and academics. Crucially, members also include representatives from a number of major banks either directly or indirectly supervised by the ECB.

The Ombudsman found that the ECB President’s continued membership of the G30 could undermine public confidence in the independence of the ECB. While acknowledging the public interest in engagement with market participants, the Ombudsman points out that membership of any organisation, society or club necessarily implies a closer relationship between those who participate in their activities than would be the case in other forms of stakeholder engagement.

The implied closeness of the relationship through membership – particularly between a supervising bank and those it supervises – is not compatible with the independence obligation of an institution such as the ECB for which independence is the hallmark of its operations.

Operational and policy independence is intentionally given to the ECB to allow it to carry out its vital functions without interference, including both political and industry interference. The extent of the independence given to the ECB in the public interest underscores its obligation to protect that independence even from the perception that an individual or entity might seek inappropriately to influence its decision making.

The Ombudsman finds that the ECB has not demonstrated that the ECB President’s membership of the G30 serves a public interest.

The Ombudsman therefore recommends that the President of the ECB suspend his membership of the G30.

The Ombudsman accepts that the ECB must conduct dialogue with market participants. She therefore also finds that, subject to certain conditions, participation by the ECB in certain G30 activities may comply with the principles of good administration. To ensure that this is always the case, the Ombudsman makes additional recommendations to the ECB.

Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in case 1641/2015/ZA on the European Personnel Selection Office’s refusal to allow the complainant to apply to two concurrent competitions for recruiting translators and failure to explain the reasons for applying this practice

Marți | 19 decembrie 2017

Made in accordance with Article 3(6) of the Statute of the European Ombudsman[1] The case concerned the European Personnel Selection Office’s (EPSO) practice of not permitting candidates to apply for more than one concurrent recruitment competition for EU civil servants even where they fulfilled the criteria. EPSO refused to allow the complainant to submit applications to two concurrent competitio...