European Network of Ombudsmen

Network in Focus 2019

Democracy in Europe: making citizen participation meaningful
Current and future challenges for ombudsman institutions
Solving cross-border problems for citizens


This year’s European Network of Ombudsmen conference in April brought us to the European Parliament just ahead of a hugely important moment for European democracy. I would like to thank all of you who participated for your valuable contributions, and hope that this publication provides useful insight for both those who were with us in Brussels and those who could not make it.

With the European elections imminent, this year’s conference provided an ideal platform to discuss participatory democracy and the role ombudsman institutions can play in promoting this. The EU’s Chief Negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, provided us with food for thought on the importance of getting participatory democracy right, notably in the context of the complexity associated with the decision by the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union.

Apart from the elections, and the importance of encouraging all voters to use their franchise, we looked at other aspects of public participation in the democratic process, whether at EU or national level. We heard about new initiatives on public mobilisation and participation in civic life, and how existing structures and institutions need to adapt these.

The conference explored some of the external influences relevant to our work, such as changing demographics or the new EU rules on data protection. It also explored how ombudsman institutions can have even greater impact by maximising how we use our ‘soft powers’. As you know, the chief motivation for hosting the conference in Brussels is to connect with the EU institutions based here. Our joint sessions with SOLVIT were a concrete manifestation of this. I hope you all drew as much benefit as I did from our discussions on some of the common cross-border issues on which we work, in particular healthcare and other social rights and benefits for those who work and live in other EU countries.

We have modernised this year’s edition of Network in Focus by transforming it into a digital publication. The purpose and content remains the same: giving you the highlights of the discussion points during our conference. We also want to highlight that the revamp of the ENO’s extranet is almost finished, and will be online later this year. We hope you will also find this a useful resource, and that it will serve as an even more useful platform for co-operation.

I hope the conference provided you with inspiration and new ideas, as it has done for my office. It has been an honour for me to host the ENO conferences in Brussels for the past few years, and I thank you all for your engagement and camaraderie.

My best wishes,

Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman

European democracy: making citizen participation meaningful

Ahead of the European elections, the public session of the conference looked at how to strengthen the participation of citizens in the democratic process. What are the current challenges and how can we ensure citizens feel included?

Participatory democracy at EU level

Laura Sullivan, executive director at the citizens’ movement WeMove, elaborates on the current tools for participatory democracy at EU level, and what improvements could be made.

Participatory democracy and the roles of petitions committees and ombudsmen

What are the differences in how petitions committees and ombudsmen can and should respond to initiatives taken by groups of mobilised citizens? How can they respond to new trends and online activism?

How ombudsmen can develop the use of ‘soft powers’ to maximise impact

Ombudsman offices have different types of ‘soft powers’, which they can use to increase the effectiveness of their work. The working group explored what these powers are and shared best practices for maximising impact.

The implications of the General Data Protection Regulation for the work of ombudsmen and petitions committees

What the General Data Protection Regulation means for ombudsmen and petitions committees was the focus of a working group at the ENO conference. This article, from the European Data Protection Board, explores some of the issues raised.

The consequences of demographic challenges and ageing societies

This working group explored the consequences of ageing societies for healthcare systems, cities and houses, and the role of ombudsmen in helping to address these demographic challenges.

SOLVIT and cross-border problem solving in the EU

This article provides an overview of SOLVIT, and how it works to help those facing cross-border problems in the EU. There was a joint session between SOLVIT and the ENO at this year’s ENO conference.

Helping those with problems accessing family benefits cross-border

Families and parents often face difficulties accessing family benefits in cross-border situations. This working group looked at the challenges, and the roles of ombudsmen and SOLVIT in addressing these situations.

Ensuring social rights for those posted to work in other EU countries

Those posted to work in other countries often face problems in exercising social rights, with EU law not properly implemented. The working group looked at some of these complex situations and explored how to solve them.

Helping people exercise their rights to cross-border healthcare in the EU

European citizens have the right to receive public or private health services across the EU. This working group looked at the roles played by ombudsmen and SOLVIT to help people exercise these rights.