Mon. May 29th, 2023

Parliament is updating the rules on how the European Ombudsman works to provide a broader mandate for inquiries into poor administration at EU level. MEPs are expected to adopt a modernised statute that strengthens the office of the European Ombudsman during the plenary session on 23-24 June. Parliament negotiators reached an agreement on the rules with the Council and the Commission in May 2021 following a couple of years of political deadlock.

Reinforced legal framework

The European Ombudsman aims to protect the interests of people and investigates cases where an EU institution or body has allegedly acted in violation of the law or good administration practices. Cases could concern administrative irregularities, discrimination, abuse of power or failure to act.

The updated statute confirms the right of the Ombudsman to act not only on complaints, but also to conduct inquiries on its own initiative, in particular in systemic or serious cases of poor administration by EU bodies.

The rules give the Ombudsman the right to demand access to classified EU information in the course of an inquiry. Member state authorities may also be asked to share information.

The European Ombudsman is elected by the European Parliament at the start of each legislative term. In future candidates must not have been members of the European Parliament, the European Council, the European Commission or national government in the previous two years. This requirement aims to safeguard the independence of the Ombudsman.

“Free to act as it sees fit”

In the plenary debate on the new rules on 9 June in the presence of the current European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, Portuguese EPP member  Paulo Rangel,  who has been reponsible for steering the new rules through Parliament, said that the Ombudsman should be an “independent body that is free to act as it sees fit”.

He said the Parliament, just like other EU institutions, can and should be investigated: “We are basically saying: we want to be the subject of scrutiny. We want our procedures to be looked at.”

O’Reilly said: “The Parliament and the Ombudsman have always enjoyed a very close and a very constructive relationship. This new statute strengthens that bond… It shows the Parliament’s continued determination to make the Union more citizen-friendly and to continue to hold the EU administration accountable to the highest standards.”

Finding compromise on the new rules

The Lisbon Treaty sets out a special procedure for decisions on the statute of the European Ombudsman: the rules are drafted by the European Parliament, which needs to obtain the opinion of the Commission and the consent of the Council before the final vote by MEPs.

The rules have not been updated since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in 2009. Parliament came up with a proposal in February 2019, but there was no agreement from the Council. Negotiations led to an informal accord between the institutions in May 2021 and Parliament proposed on 10 June a text in accordance with the compromise. The final plenary vote is expected on 23 June.

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