Lack of transparency tops list of EU complaints
by Daniel Mason
A lack of transparency in the European Union institutions was again the main source of complaints to the European Ombudsman last year. Meanwhile the European Commission continued to be the target of more than half of the objections raised by individuals and organisations.
Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros – whose role is to investigate maladministration in EU institutions and agencies – presented his annual report for 2011 in Brussels today.
There were 2,510 complaints registered with the ombudsman, although only 698 were within his mandate. It was slightly fewer than in 2010, when 2,667 complaints were made, of which 744 fell under the ombudsman's remit. Spain overtook Germany as the source of most complaints, while the greatest proportion relative to population size came from Luxembourg and Cyprus.
A lack of transparency in the EU administration – including the refusal to release documents and information – was again the most common reason for complaints. However, these cases fell from one third of the overall total in 2010 to one quarter last year. Problems with the execution of EU contracts or calls for tender were also raised.
In most cases the ombudsman responded by opening an inquiry, transferring the case to the competent body – such as national ombudsmen or the European Parliament's committee on petitions – or giving advice to the complainant. Eighty-two per cent of complaints were made by individuals and 18 per cent by companies, associations, and other organisations.
However, while the number of complaints was down, the number of inquiries opened by Diamandouros rose to a record 396 compared with 335 the previous year. Of these, by far the most, 58 per cent, related to the commission, while 13 per cent concerned EU agencies, 11 per cent the European Personnel Selection Office – which recruits staff across the institutions – and 4 per cent the European Parliament.
The ombudsman completed 318 inquiries in 2011, eight fewer than in 2010. He found evidence of maladministration in 47 cases, a slight increase from 40 the previous year. In two thirds of cases the institution accepted a solution, settled a problem or gave a satisfactory reply.
Diamandouros said: "As well as helping thousands of European citizens to find solutions to their individual problems, my inquiries also benefit citizens more generally by contributing to the improvement of the quality and responsiveness of the EU administration., and by clarifying what the administration is doing and why.
"The inquiries into radiation levels in imported food after the Fukushima disaster, into potential conflicts of interest in EU institutions, and into the range of languages used in public consultations all illustrate this broader impact."
According to the ombudsman's office he helped more than 22,000 European individuals, companies, non-governmental organisations and associations over the course of the year. An online interactive guide was used by 18,000 citizens to seek advice on who they should turn to to address their problems.
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