Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Ombudsman vows 'robust' action against EU secrecy

  • The Irish official has raised the profile of the EU ombudsman office (Photo: Valentina Pop)

EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly wants more transparency from EU institutions on letting officials switch to the private sector, negotiating trade agreements, and allowing medicines onto the European market.

"Even if I don’t have powers of a judge, I do have very strong investigatory powers, I can summon officials to question them about their actions," O'Reilly said Tuesday (23 September) in a press conference reporting on her first year in office.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Providing she gets re-elected in January by the European Parliament, O'Reilly said she wants to use her powers "in a more robust way" and pursue a more "strategic" way of investigating transparency and integrity issues with EU institutions.

The EU ombudsman office is a 80-strong unit dealing with citizens' complaints. It also has the power to conduct own inquiries into conflicts of interest or transparency matters. The subsequent recommendations are non-binding but tend to put the institution concerned into the spotlight.

O'Reilly, who in 2003 was elected Ireland's first woman ombudsman, has already launched a public consultation about the ongoing EU-US trade negotiations (TTIP) which have drawn criticism for their secrecy and alleged privileged access for industry groups.

She has sent a series of questions to the EU commission about these allegations and said that if the answers - due by next month - are not satisfactory, the trade commissioner may be summoned for further explanations.

More scrutiny on 'revolving doors'

Conflicts of interest is another "strategic" area O'Reilly is pursuing, after having looked at a sample of 54 EU officials who left their job to work for the private sector.

She said the inquiry found "major deficiencies" in the way the European Commission justifies permissions to leave to a private sector job.

"We found that when someone was given permission, it was not very well reasoned, while when permission was not granted or restrictions were put in place, there was a very good reasoning for it," she said.

O'Reilly said the EU commission should set up a public register where the names and new jobs of EU senior officials are published. She argues that, in this case, the public interest trumps the privacy rights of those officials. The UK already has such a register for its government officials who switch to the public sector.

Other EU institutions are also subject of her scrutiny, such as the European Central Bank, whose transparency policy is "erring on side of extreme caution", or the European Medicines Agency, which, she said, first had a very progressive transparency policy but then caved in to pressure from the pharmaceuticals industry.

Looking at the statistics on where citizens' complaints originated from, Spain topped the list in 2013 with 416 complaints, followed by Germany with 269 and Poland with 248.

But as most of these complaints were referred to national authorities, Belgium emerges as the country with the most inquiries opened (53) as a result of such complaints, followed by Germany (40 inquiries) and Italy (39 inquiries).

At the other end of the scale is Malta, with seven complaints and zero inquiries launched in 2013, followed by Denmark ( seven complaints, three inquiries).

Ombudsman: 'Now the hard work begins'

Emily O'Reilly marked her first year in office as the European Union's Ombudsman on Wednesday but her gloves are only coming off now.

EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency

A resolution demanding Saudi Arabia release prisoners and stop gender-based violence was passed by over 500 MEPs on Thursday in Strasbourg. They also demanded greater transparency over Brussels-based lobbying for the Saudis, following an EUobserver exclusive.

Saudis paying College of Europe to lobby MEPs

The Bruges-based College of Europe is setting up private meetings with the EU institutions for seven ambassadors plus seven high-level officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us