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12th Apr 2021

Transparency complaints keep EU Ombudsman busy

  • The Ombudsman closed 86 inquiries last year that were about transparency, such as complaints about access to documents. (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Almost a third of complaints in cases closed by the European Ombudsman in 2016 were about transparency the Ombudsman said in its annual report, published on Wednesday (24 May).

The Ombudsman closed 86 inquiries last year that were about transparency, such as complaints about access to documents. In 2015, transparency was the subject matter of 62 closed cases.

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The share of transparency as a topic increased from 22.4 percent to 29.6 percent.

The EU institution on which the Ombudsman opened the most inquiries was the European Commission - 144, or 58.8 percent, compared to 145 or 55.6 percent the previous year.

European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly said at a press conference on Wednesday that the Commission topped the list “not because it is the worst performer in relation to administration”, but simply because of “the institutional role it plays in the EU”.

EU agencies, when treated as a group, were the second-largest source of inquiries opened: 32 cases, two more than in 2015.

The European Ombudsman has been receiving a fairly stable number of complaints that fall within its mandate, fluctuating between 698 and 930. The figure was 711 last year.

However, the Brussels-based organisation received far more complaints about issues it can do nothing about.

“The European Ombudsman receives many complaints on issues that do not fall within her mandate, mostly because they do not concern the work of an EU institution or body,” the report said.

“Sometimes complaints are based on the misconception that the Ombudsman is an appeals body over national ombudsmen.”

The annual report noted that 2016 saw a “record low” of complaints that fell outside of the Ombudsman's remit: 1,169. That figure had been as high as 2,768 a decade earlier.

The report said the decrease “was largely achieved through effective communication” about what the European Ombudsman does.

Brexit

The departure of the UK from the EU is expected to raise many questions and requests for inquiries.

The annual report noted that by the end of 2016 “the Ombudsman had received five complaints involving administrative issues related to Brexit, three of which concerned access to information”.

It also said that the European Network of Ombudsmen will be “setting up a common platform on how to deal with ‘Brexit complaints’ from EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa”.

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Opinion

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The European Parliament is currently fine-tuning its negotiating position on the Commission's proposal from September 2016 for a mandatory transparency register. Sadly, so far it seems to prefer empty statements to bold action.

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