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Speech of the European Ombudsman -Committee on Petitions Introductory remarks by the European Ombudsman, Jacob Söderman

Mr Chairman!

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Committee on Petitions, which is responsible for dealing with the Ombudsman's reports to the European Parliament. You have before you today three reports: the Annual Report for 1999, and two Special Reports following own-initiative inquiries. The first Special Report concerns the Commission's recruitment procedures. The second concerns the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour.
An exchange of views with this Committee is, for me, both a pleasure and a valuable professional occasion. I look forward to your observations both on the work carried out in the year 1999 and on the Special Reports.

The results for 1999

Last year the Ombudsman's office received 1577 new complaints, compared to 1372 in 1998 : an increase of nearly 15%. During the first three months of the year 2000, there has been a further increase of 23%, compared to the first three months of 1999. We closed 203 inquiries with a reasoned decision in 1999, compared to 185 in 1998 : an increase of just over 10%. In 45% of these cases the institution settled the matter, a friendly solution was found, the case was closed with a critical remark or a draft recommendation was accepted by the institution concerned. This percentage has remained stable since last year.
In 107 cases, no maladministration was found. At just over 52%, this figure is also about the same as last year in percentage terms. A finding of no maladministration is not always a negative result for the complainant. The institution or body has to explain its behaviour to the complainant and in some cases even manages to convince the complainant that it has acted correctly.
As well as carrying out inquiries in cases within our mandate, we carefully study all the other complaints, especially if they involve rights under Community law. In 1999, we managed to advise the complainant, or transfer the complaint to a competent body in about 70% of cases. Of these, we transferred 71 cases to the European Parliament to be dealt with as petitions and advised a further 142 complainants of their right to petition the European Parliament.
In many other cases, the complaint could be dealt with speedily and effectively by an ombudsmen or similar body (such as a petitions committee) at the national level. When presenting my Annual Report to this Committee last year, I undertook to increase my efforts to achieve success in this field through strengthening our cooperation with the national ombudsmen and similar bodies. In fulfilment of this undertaking, we organised jointly with the French Ombudsman, Mr Stasi, a seminar in Paris in September 1999. A further seminar for national ombudsman is planned for the year 2001 in Brussels. Naturally, the Committee on Petitions is always invited to participate in these seminars.

Mr Chairman!

I turn now to the Special Report on the Commission's recruitment procedure, which was submitted to the European Parliament on 18 October 1999.
After a series of complaints alleging lack of transparency in the Commission's recruitment procedure, the Ombudsman launched an own-initiative inquiry(1), which led the Commission to accept three proposals. It agreed to let candidates keep a copy of the question paper, to provide better information about the evaluation criteria and to let candidates know the names of the people who interview them.
Following the Special Report, the new Commission has also accepted the Ombudsman's fourth recommendation to give candidates in recruitment competitions access to their own marked examination scripts, from July 2000. I very much welcome this positive response from the new team in charge of the Personnel and Administration Directorate of the Commission. The promised change should help to ensure that many young European citizens receive a positive first impression of the Community institutions.

Mr Chairman!

The third report which is before you concerns the Ombudsman's own-initiative inquiry into the existence and the public accessibility, in the different Community institutions and bodies, of a Code of good administrative behaviour.
In its resolutions on the annual reports on the activities of the European Ombudsman in 1997 and 1998, the European Parliament stressed the urgent need to draw up as soon as possible a Code of good administrative behaviour, and the importance for such a Code to be as identical as possible for all European institutions and bodies.
In November 1998, the Ombudsman launched an own-initiative inquiry into the possible adoption by the Community institutions and bodies of a Code of good administrative behaviour. At first, we hoped that the Commission would propose a Code, but following the collapse of the Santer Commission their work seemed to stop. The Ombudsman therefore took on the task of drafting a model Code and proposed it to all the Community institutions and bodies as a draft recommendation. The model Code draws inspiration from the existing administrative laws of the Member States and from international organisations.
The Special Report on the own-initiative inquiry was presented to the President of the European Parliament on 11 April 2000. It takes account of information received up to 1 March 2000. From the responses received by that date, it appeared that only two bodies, namely the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (EMEA) and the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union had adopted the Ombudsman's model Code. Subsequently, we have been informed that three other agencies have also agreed to adopt the Ombudsman's model Code.
The Commission presented its own draft Code which, in substance, is close to the Ombudsman's model, but it has not yet adopted it. After the Special Report was finalised, we learnt that the European Parliament has adopted a Code which is very different both from the Commission's draft and the Ombudsman's model. Neither the Council nor any other body seems yet to have a Code.
These varied responses led me to conclude that it is not possible to achieve, through a voluntary Code, rules of good administrative behaviour which apply equally to all Community institutions and bodies in their relations with the public. I therefore end the Special Report with a recommendation to enact rules of good administrative behaviour as a European administrative law. It is for this Committee to examine the best way forward and to make a proposal in its report.
The European Parliament, in its capacity as the only European institution democratically representing all European citizens, could consider using the procedure referred to in Article 192(2) of the EC Treaty in order to initiate the adoption of such a European administrative law, in the form of a Regulation applying to all the Community institutions and bodies.
One of the fundamental achievements of European integration is that it creates legal rights for individuals, vis-à-vis both Community institutions and the Member States. This is what distinguishes the European Union from other international organisations.
The creation of a European administrative law, applying to all the Community institutions and bodies would be a major step towards giving effect to the citizens' right to an open, accountable and service-minded administration.
Mr Chairman!
I thank you and all the members of this Committee for your kind attention and I am ready to answer any questions you may have about the work in 1999 and about the Special Reports.

(1) 1004/97/(PD)GG

(2) Resolution on the annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman in 1997 (C-0270/98), OJ 1998 C 292/168, Resolution on the annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman in 1998 (C-0138/99), OJ 1999 C 219/456.