MEP: European Ombudsman a 'bloated' office
by Nikki Sinclaire
The function of the European Ombudsman's office is vital in the interests of transparency, but it has become a bloated bureaucratic entity with insufficient public recognition, writes independent MEP
The office of European Ombudsman has existed since 1995 with a remit to investigate European Union institutions, in response to complaints by citizens, on the grounds of maladministration – for example administrative irregularities, unfairness, discrimination, abuse of power, failure to reply, refusal of information or unnecessary delay. The main subject of complaints is, by far, the European Commission.
The present incumbent, in office since 2003, is Nikiforos Diamandouros, an esteemed Greek academic who was previously the National Ombudsman of Greece. He presented his annual report for 2011 to the European Parliament on June 18, and it makes interesting reading. When we consider that the EU has a population of over half a billion people, we might expect something more than the 698 complaints that the ombudsman received in that year which actually fell within his mandate.
In 2011 the overwhelming majority of complaints, as many as 1,812, were in fact outside the ombudsman's remit, and of the 698 that he was able to address, 128 were subsequently marked "no further inquiries justified". And so, from a population of half a billion citizens, a total of 578 complaints were actually dealt with in a meaningful manner. He has a lot of people to help him deal with these complaints: the ombudsman's official website lists no less than 74 staff members based in Strasbourg. This, apparently, is not enough: for 2013 he is asking for extra staff, as well as an increase of almost 4 per cent in his annual budget taking it to just under €10m.
Another interesting statistic concerns the origins of complaints. Probably the most Eurosceptic of member states, the United Kingdom, accounted for just 141 complaints. This was amongst the very lowest levels per capita. Given that we are, according to popular opinion, a 'nation of whingers', this seems somewhat odd, and I questioned the ombudsman about this. There is clearly a lack of awareness of his office and its activities among the citizenry, and I asked him if he thought there might be a way in which MEPs could encourage citizen engagement in their member states. The answer was that no, actually, he did not have any thoughts about that.
I am not opposed to the concept of an ombudsman per se. In fact in the interests of openness and transparency such a function is vital, and I am pleased that he is appointed by, and accountable to, the only publically elected body within the EU institutions, the parliament.
What I am opposed to is a bloated bureaucratic entity that clearly suffers from a lack of public recognition that hampers its work. And one that seeks to expend itself and its budget while its host body inflicts austerity programmes on citizens in member states, and presides over job losses and lost livelihoods – as a generation of youth look on and contemplate the careers they may never have. 'Fiddling while Rome burns' is an analogy that we have heard often during the EU's response to the eurozone crisis, but I would argue that it is an apt one.
Nikki Sinclaire is an independent MEP who represents the West Midlands in the United Kingdom
EU ombudsman to retire after 10-year stint
The European Ombudsman, P Nikiforos Diamandouros, has announced his retirement after a decade in the role, citing a desire to return to life as an 'active private citizen'
MEPs are elected representatives and are welcome to put forward their ideas on stregthening citizen involvement. Diamandouros developed a strategy for stregthening civil society and citizen involvement.
In 2011 - his office helped some 22,000 European citizens, companies, NGOs, and associations, either by investigating complaints, answering information requests, or giving advice via his online interactive guide. The European Citizens Action Service describes his office like this: "The European Ombudsman offers a fast, flexible and free service to complainants"
Leoardo palumbo - Brussels, Belgium - the Civil Society Contact Group