Institutional Affairs

EU must be more transparent, ombudsman says

29.04.10 @ 17:47

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - The European Union's ombudsman has in his annual report called on EU institutions to be more transparent and citizen-friendly.

  • Two high-ranking EU officials accepted Ruby World Cup tickets from a sportswear manufacturer (Photo: gepiblu)

Some 36 percent of the 3,100 complaints he received in 2009 were related to an alleged lack of transparency, including refusal to release documents or information, particularly from the European Commission.

Most of the enquiries by ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros concerned the EU executive (some 56 percent of cases), followed by the European Parliament, the European Personnel Selection Office, the Council and the Court of Justice of the EU.

At the same time, the ombudsman said he was pleased that in more than half of the cases the institution concerned accepted a friendly solution or settled the matter and the number of cases in which critical remarks were made went down from 44 in 2008 to 35 in 2009.

He added that the introduction of the EU's charter of rights along with the passage of the Lisbon Treaty last year, he intends to step his work chasing down instances where the EU is not adhering to these principles.

"The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is now legally binding and contains the citizens' right to good administration and the right of access to documents. I will increase my efforts to ensure that these rights are taken seriously by the EU administration."

Germany produced the greatest number of complaints of all the member states, on 413, followed by Spain (389), Poland (235) and France (235).

However, relative to the size of their population, most complaints came from Luxembourg, Malta, Cyprus and Belgium.

Emphasising the need to not only be free of conflict of interest but also to appear to be free of such conflicts, Mr Diamandouros highlighted the case of a pair of high-ranking commission officials who last November accepted VIP tickets to the Rugby World Cup from a sportswear supplier.

During his investigation, the ombudsman found no evidence to suggest any actual conflict of interest, but he stressed the importance of the institutions maintaining "public confidence in its work and to protect its staff from unjustified suspicion."

In the end, the commission agreed with the ombudsman's proposal to acknowledge that it would have been better not to allow its officials to accept the tickets.

Mr Diamandouros welcomed the commission's announcement that it will update its internal rules on accepting gifts and hospitality.

"I encourage the commission to publish the updated rules in order to help strengthen public confidence in the EU institutions," he said of the rugby tickets case.

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