Thursday

21st Nov 2019

EU watchdog vows to keep up pressure, if reappointed

  • Emily O'Reilly with Jose Manuel Barroso. The Ombudsman criticised EU staff who sold 'insider information' (Photo: European Parliament)

Emily O'Reilly, the European Ombudsman, has promised to keep up pressure on EU institutions if reappointed for another five years.

"Well, what's the point of me, if I'm not going to do that?", she told EUobserver shortly after announcing her candidacy last week.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"I'm not making a martyr or a saint out of myself, but I see the European Ombudsman as a vital role. It's in the [EU] treaties and it's in the Charter of Fundamental Rights - you're a watchdog on the institutions", she said.

The 62-year old Irish woman was involved in several high-profile EU controversies in the past five years.

She reprimanded the European Commission for its shifty promotion of top civil servant Martin Selmayr.

She criticised its ethics when former EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso went to lobby for a US investment bank.

And she criticised European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi for his dealings with secretive financial clubs.

Some of her work attracted unprecedented international media attention.

The number of Ombudsman inquiries into EU malpractice also grew on her watch to hit record levels last year.

"I got involved with some heavy hitters, but I hope people would see the work I did was fair and non-partisan," O'Reilly said.

"We're just doing our job, but some of the cases take on a life of their own [in the media]", she added.

Some 98 percent of the inquiries arose from public tip-offs or complaints, but O'Reilly also used special reports and sent letters to needle people like Draghi or Jeroen Dijselbloem, the former head of the eurozone ministers' club, the Eurogroup, on greater transparency.

If it saw "systemic problems" which the general public was not aware of, the Ombudsman ought to trigger "own initiative" reports, she told EUobserver.

"The right has always been there [in the EU treaty] and it was used by my predecessors", she said.

The European Ombudsman is elected by a secret ballot of MEPs after hearings in the petitions committee in December.

Candidates need 40 MEPs from at least two EU states to back them in order to run and it remains unclear who plans to challenge O'Reilly at this stage.

High-value

But transparency in the EU Council, as well as in new EU bodies which arose after the financial crisis, such as the Single Supervisory Mechanism in Frankfurt, would remain a "high-value issue" if she was reappointed, she told this website.

So-called 'revolving doors', in which former EU officials, such as Barroso, walk out of EU posts into corporate jobs, also remained a matter of concern, she added.

"People [former officials] have a right to work, but we have to make sure public interest isn't harmed by the selling of insider information, which, let's face it, is very often what happens," she said.

Media pressure was sometimes effective in stimulating change, O'Reilly added.

The recent series of EU dramas - the financial crisis, the migration crisis, and Brexit - had created "greater public interest" in what was going in Brussels, she said.

Politico Europe's big launch in 2015 also "sexed up" Brussels journalism by making it "more dramatic, more personality-based", she added.

Soft power

The Ombudsman was not a judge whose verdicts had to be followed, but an "influencer" with "soft power", she noted.

"It's like being the conductor of an orchestra - sometimes you have to go with the big guns, sometimes the piccolo, and sometimes silence, sometimes we say nothing to media," she said.

"I'm a practical woman, who likes to see results," O'Reilly said.

Belgium, whose laws govern media in the EU capital, recently tabled a bill that could criminalise publication of leaked papers in what NGOs have called a threat to investigative journalists.

And O'Reilly stood up for media freedom in the EU bubble.

"Without commenting on the draft Belgian law in particular, I do however note Article 11.2 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which says that the freedom of the media shall be respected. This is vital for the media to carry out its functions in the public interest," she said.

Exclusive

EU parliament rejects ombudsman over expenses

The European Parliament questions whether the ombudsman had the right to criticise the institution's "margin of discretion" in deciding on publication of confidential papers about the controversial monthly €4,513 expenses lump sum for MEPs.

Exclusive

Ombudsman backs EUobserver on MEP expenses

The European Parliament should have granted access to documents on a decision about how transparent MEPs should be in future with their office expenses, says EU Ombudsman.

Exclusive

EIB blames Ombudsman for not helping redact VW report

Volkswagen Group duped the European Investment Bank, from which it borrowed €400m, by not disclosing it was cheating on emissions tests. Requests by EUobserver to see the anti-fraud report however have been consistently rejected.

Opinion

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

New commissioners clear 'conflict of interests' hurdle

The parliament's legal affairs committee narrowly gave the green light to France's Thierry Breton - with some MEPs critical of the candidate's links to IT firm Atos. Meanwhile, Brussels still waits for a UK commissioner.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Column

Why the EU can't do security and defence

What if the EU can't guarantee European security? In times when US physical presence does not make up for its mental absence, the question got urgent.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. New calls for Muscat to resign over journalist's murder
  2. Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president
  3. Don't lead Europe by triggering its fears
  4. Finland: EU 'not brain dead' on enlargement
  5. The labour market is not ready for the future
  6. Parliament should have 'initiation' role
  7. AI skewed to young, male, and western EU, report warns
  8. US and EU go separate ways on Israeli settlers

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us