Sunday

18th Apr 2021

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

Catalan MEPs lose immunity, slam 'political persecution'

Catalan separatist MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí lost their parliamentary immunity - a result they have hailed as a "political victory" for bringing the conflict between Catalonia and Spain closer to the heart of Europe.

12-month Future EU Conference is 'impossible', expert warns

The debate about the much-delayed Conference on the Future of Europe so far has been locked in endless institutional infighting over who should lead the event - lowering the expectations about what can be achieved in the coming months.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute

The Belgian and Bulgarian prosecutors who were appointed had also not been the experts' first choice. Belgian prosecutor Jean-Michel Verelst has challenged the council's decision at the European Court of Justice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us