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Speech to the European Parliament by the European Ombudsman, Mr P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, on the Annual Report of the European Ombudsman for the year 2004, Strasbourg, 27 October 2005

Introductory Remarks

President, Honourable Members, I wish to thank you for this opportunity to address Parliament and to present the Annual Report for 2004, my first full year in office.

The year 2004 was hugely significant for the European Union – a year of historic enlargement, European elections, a new Commission and intense debate about the Constitution.

These events and the popular attention they attracted had important consequences for the Ombudsman, as I will explain in a moment.

The Annual Report for 2004

The Annual Report records our progress in (a) handling complaints, (b) promoting good administration, and (c) making the Ombudsman’s work better known to citizens.

In total, 3 726 complaints were received, a 53 per cent increase compared to the previous year.

The rise in complaints does not result from worsening administrative behaviour by the European institutions. Rather, it reflects citizens’ increased general awareness of matters European and growing knowledge about their rights and about how to exercise those rights.

As I have mentioned, 2004 was a year in which European subjects figured prominently in headlines throughout the Union.

I also made intensive efforts to inform citizens about their right to complain to the European Ombudsman and to spread the word about the positive results that have been achieved.

All in all, I gave over thirty public lectures and presentations and held over one hundred and fifty meetings with ombudsmen, public officials and other interlocutors in the Member States and candidate countries.

Results of Inquiries

During 2004, I was able to help almost 70 per cent of the people who complained to me. The help took one of three forms: opening an inquiry, transferring the case to a competent body, or advising on where to turn for a prompt and effective solution to the problem.

No maladministration

I closed 251 inquiries during the year. In 45 per cent of the cases, the inquiry revealed no maladministration. Such a finding is not always negative for the complainant, who at least has the benefit of a full explanation from the institution or body concerned of its actions.

Furthermore, even when there is no maladministration, I may identify an opportunity for the institution or body to improve the quality of its administration in the future. If so, I point this out in a further remark in the closing decision.

Cases settled by the institution and friendly solutions

Whenever there is maladministration, I try, if possible, to achieve a positive-sum outcome that satisfies both the complainant and the institution.

In 28 per cent of cases, my inquiries resulted either in the institution concerned settling the case to the satisfaction of the complainant, or in a friendly solution.

Critical remarks, draft recommendations, and Special Reports

When a friendly solution is not possible, I close the case with a critical remark, or make a draft recommendation.

An example of a draft recommendation accepted in 2004 was a case in which the Commission granted ex gratia compensation to a small company which had been given insufficient time to prepare a proposal for a research and development contract.

If a Community institution or body fails to respond satisfactorily to a draft recommendation, the Ombudsman's ultimate weapon is a Special Report to the European Parliament.

Only one Special Report was made in 2004, following the Commission’s refusal to reconsider its rules on the grading of press officers in its delegations.

I made the draft recommendation in this case because the Commission failed to provide a coherent and convincing explanation of the variations in its current practice, despite having every opportunity to do so during my inquiry.

In my view, it is important that the European institutions should be willing to think again, rather than give the appearance of acting in an arbitrary way.

I am grateful for Parliament’s support on this important issue of principle, as expressed in Paragraph Eleven of Mr Mavrommatis's Report.

Own-initiative inquiries

Two own-initiative inquiries addressing systemic issues were closed during the year with positive results.

The Commission accepted the need to improve the administration of the European Schools and gave a commitment to co-operate with parents. I encouraged the Commission to seek to ensure that the Schools themselves acknowledge the need to empower parents and win their trust.

The Commission also accepted and implemented a draft recommendation to introduce an internal complaints procedure for seconded national experts.

Priorities for the future

President, honourable Members, I would also now like to say a few words about my priorities for the future.

To ensure that EU institutions and bodies conform to the highest standards of administration

The first priority is to promote a citizen-centred approach by the EU institutions and bodies in all their activities. To this end, I will seek every opportunity systematically to reach out to the institutions to encourage best practice and promote friendly solutions.

The active co-operation of the Institutions and bodies is essential to the success of the Ombudsman’s work for citizens. The Annual Report contains many examples of the institutions' taking prompt action to settle cases brought to their attention and responding positively to my proposals and recommendations.

During visits to the institutions and bodies, I underline the value of reacting promptly and constructively to complaints. The ultimate goal for us all must be to ensure the best possible service to the citizen.

I will continue to push for an end to the present confusing situation in which different institutions and bodies apply different codes of good administration.

Parliament has already approved, on 6 September 2001, the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour. This text contains the rules and principles that should apply to all the Union institutions and bodies.

The Code has received wide recognition internationally, in the Member States and candidate states, in the Council of Europe and elsewhere in the world. It is a European success story of which both Parliament and Ombudsman can be justly proud.

I was encouraged by the positive reaction of the President of the Commission on this point when I met the College of Commissioners in May this year. With the cooperation of the Commission, I believe it would be possible for a common Code to be adopted in 2006.

To guarantee that the European Ombudsman institution serves the citizen in the most efficient and effective way possible

I also intend to revisit the question of the Ombudsman’s Statute. My principal objective is to ensure that citizens can have full confidence in the Ombudsman’s power to find the truth when hearing witnesses or inspecting documents.

I would also like to cooperate with Parliament to ensure that citizens' complaints about violations of the fundamental rights mentioned in the Charter can be brought before the Court of Justice, if an important issue of principle cannot be resolved in any other way. Parliament, of course, already has full rights as an institution to initiate cases before the Court.

In this context, it could be useful for the Ombudsman to have the power to intervene in such cases; a power, I note, that has already been given to the European Data Protection Supervisor, with whom I had a friendly and productive meeting last week.

To ensure that citizens' rights under EU law are respected at every level in the Union

A third priority is to deepen my close cooperation with ombudsmen in the Member States through the European Network of Ombudsmen.

The Network makes it possible to transfer cases rapidly, share best practice and promote a free flow of information about European law and its implementation at the national, regional and local levels.

The aim is to promote good administration throughout the Union, so that citizens can enjoy their rights under European law.

I am delighted that, following a valuable proposal in the De Rossa report last year, the Committee on Petitions participates in the Network as a full member and was represented at the meeting of national ombudsmen which took place in The Hague in September.

The Report of the Committee on Petitions

President, honourable members, I would like to thank the Members of the Committee on Petitions and in particular this year’s Rapporteur, Mr Mavrommatis, for their support and constructive proposals as set out in Parliament's Report.

I have already mentioned today many of the matters on which the Report contains wise advice addressed to the Ombudsman.

As regards other points, I have already undertaken to ask to appear before the Committee on Petitions whenever I deem it necessary to submit a Special Report to this House, following rejection of a friendly solution or draft recommendation.

Earlier this month, I presented the Committee with two new Special Reports. The first was on the financial treatment of Commission staff whose children cannot attend the European Schools because of their degree of disability.

The second Report found that the Council has given no valid reason for continuing to legislate behind closed doors. The Council could easily amend its Rules of Procedure to provide for open legislative meetings.

I am also committed to improving information to citizens about the services provided by members of the European Network of Ombudsmen.

I intend to introduce an interactive guide on our website to help complainants find the appropriate ombudsman to deal with, be it at the European, national, or regional level.


President, honourable members, a few weeks ago we celebrated the first ten years of the European Ombudsman.

To mark the occasion, we published a volume tracing the history of the institution. We have also held a number of successful commemorative events, including one for the European Parliament on 27 September. Further events will take place in the next few weeks in both Strasbourg and Brussels.

I believe that the relationships of goodwill, trust and understanding that have been built up over the last decade are a precious resource for improving the quality of public administration in Europe to the benefit of citizens. The European Parliament and its Committee on Petitions are vital partners for the European Ombudsman in this regard.

Thank you for your attention.