New code sets out 'fundamental standards' for EU officials
by Nikiforos Diamandouros
Freshly published guidelines for civil servants embody fundamental ethical standards and should help build trust between citizens and EU institutions, writes the European Ombudsman
Yesterday I published a set of 'public service principles' that should guide the conduct of European Union civil servants. The principles take account of best practice in the member states and were formulated following an initial consultation with the European Network of Ombudsmen. There was also a public consultation on a first draft of the principles. The responses to the consultation from citizens, civil servants, interest groups, EU institutions and other organisations were of great value in finalising the principles.
The public service principles embody fundamental ethical standards. 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. Here is an overview of the five public service principles:
First, commitment to the EU and its citizens. Civil servants should be conscious that the EU's institutions exist in order to serve the interests of the EU and of its citizens. They should be mindful of their position of public trust and set a good example to others.
Next, integrity. Civil servants should conduct themselves in a manner that would bear the closest public scrutiny. They should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation that might influence them in the performance of their functions, including by the receipt of gifts. Civil servants should take steps to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of such conflicts. They should take swift action to resolve any conflict that arises. This obligation continues after leaving office.
Third, objectivity. Civil servants should be impartial, open-minded, guided by evidence, and willing to hear different viewpoints. They should be ready to acknowledge and correct mistakes. In procedures involving comparative evaluations, civil servants should base recommendations and decisions only on merit and any other factors expressly prescribed by law. They should not discriminate or allow the fact that they like, or dislike, a particular person to influence their professional conduct.
Fourth, respect for others. Civil servants should act respectfully to each other and to citizens and express themselves clearly, using plain language.
And finally, transparency. Civil servants should be willing to explain their activities and to give reasons for their actions. They should keep proper records and welcome public scrutiny of their conduct, including their compliance with these public service principles.
Bearing the principles in mind can help civil servants to understand and apply rules correctly, and to guide them towards the right decision in situations where they should exercise judgment. The principles are not new. They represent existing expectations of citizens and civil servants. Furthermore, they are already embodied, both explicitly and implicitly, in the staff regulations and in other documents, such as the Financial Regulation, and the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour.
One way of making such principles operational in concrete situations is through detailed rules. Such rules exist, for example, on matters such as preventing and regulating conflicts of interest. As some contributors to the public consultation pointed out, more and better rules may well be needed. My intention in drawing up these public service principles was not that they should serve as a substitute for such rules but rather as a guide designed to help the exercise of judgment in situations where this is needed.
I have tried to express the principles in a way that is relevant to all civil servants, not just those with management or other leadership responsibilities. However, members of the institutions, such as members of the European Commission, the Court of Auditors, and the European Parliament, and judges of the Court of Justice are not 'officials or other servants' within the meaning of the staff regulations. They are not, therefore 'civil servants' for the purposes of the public service principles. Nonetheless, they may find the principles relevant to them, as a source of inspiration in relation to their special responsibilities.
Whenever relevant, I will refer to the principles during future inquiries into possible maladministration in the activities of the EU institutions, bodies, offices, and agencies.
The public service principles can help generate and focus an on-going, constructive dialogue both among civil servants, as well as between civil servants and the public. Cultural diversity, celebrated in the motto 'united in diversity', is a major strength of the EU. It also means that such dialogue is vital, as a way of consolidating and deepening a shared understanding of the ethical values of public service among civil servants and among citizens with different cultural backgrounds.
Nikiforos Diamandouros is the European Ombudsman
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I am no citizen of this EU.
Darren - Southampton, Britain