The European Ombudsman has published a set of principles to guide the work of civil servants and officials in the European Union, in an effort to "build greater trust" between citizens and EU institutions.
The ethical guidelines, issued by the ombudsman today, are set out under five headings: commitment to the EU and its citizens, integrity, objectivity, respect for others and transparency.
In a statement, ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros said: "The public service principles embody fundamental ethical standards. As such, they constitute a vital component of the administrative culture of service to which the EU institutions adhere. At a time when the EU is facing a severe crisis, the principles can help build greater trust between citizens and the EU institutions."
The guidelines were first drafted in 2010 after discussions with the European Network of Ombudsmen. A public consultation was then held last year. The ombudsman said he would refer to the principles when carrying out future inquiries into maladministration in the EU institutions, offices and agencies.
Within the guidelines, civil servants and officials are urged to "carry out their functions to the best of their abilities and strive to meet the highest possible standards at all times". Avoiding conflicts of interests and discrimination, maintaining impartiality and respect, using plain language and keeping proper transparent records are among the topics covered in the document.
"Civil servants should be guided by a sense of propriety and conduct themselves at all times in a manner that would bear the closest public scrutiny," the guidelines state.
In an introduction to the published document, Diamandouros writes that the principles are "not new" and are "already embodied, both explicitly and implicitly, in the staff regulations and other documents". He notes that "the added value of the present document is that is sets out the principles in a straightforward and concise way".
While the staff regulations on which the guidelines are based apply only to civil servants and officials, members of the European Commission, MEPs and judges in the European Court of Justice "may find the principles relevant to them, as a source of inspiration in relation to their special responsibilities", he adds.
In an interview with PublicServiceEurope.com
in March 2011, Diamandouros said: "We are influenced by simplicity and parsimony, while avoiding being too banal in these new instructions. I am inspired by British best-practice in terms of better regulation, and trying to express things in an easy-to-access form as the Swedes do."
He added: "We have to develop a situation that assumes that citizens are carriers of rights, who can hold officials accountable while seeking to get information and transparency. So that is the direction of travel – we have to ensure that the union works for citizens from the bottom up and not the other way around."