The Ombudsman responds to complaints from EU citizens, businesses and organisations, helping to uncover cases of 'maladministration' – where EU institutions, bodies, offices or agencies have broken the law, failed to respect the principles of sound administration or violated human rights. Examples include:
- abuse of power
- lack of or refusal to provide information
- unnecessary delay
- incorrect procedures.
The Ombudsman's office launches investigations after receiving a complaint or on its own initiative. It is completely independent and does not take orders from any government or organisation. Once a year, it presents the European Parliament with an activity report.
Electing the European Ombudsman is one of the first tasks of each newly-elected European Parliament. The next Parliament elections will take place in May 2014. The next European Ombudsman election will thus be held in the second half of 2014.
Emily O'Reilly, elected in July 2013, is the European Ombudsman currently in office.
How can I complain to the Ombudsman?
If you are dissatisfied with an EU institution, body, office or agency, you should first give it the opportunity to put the situation right. If that approach fails, you can complain to the European Ombudsman.
You must make your complaint to the Ombudsman within two years of the date on which you became aware of the problem. You must clearly state who you are, which institution or body you are complaining about and what your problem is. You may ask for the complaint to remain confidential.
What the Ombudsman does not do
The Ombudsman cannot investigate:
- complaints against national, regional or local authorities within EU countries (government departments, state agencies and local councils), even when the complaints are about EU matters.
- the activities of national courts or ombudsmen. The European Ombudsman is not an appeals body for decisions taken by these entities.
- complaints against businesses or private individuals.
What happens after a complaint is made?
The Ombudsman may be able to solve your problem simply by informing the institution, body, office or agency concerned, but if more is required, the Ombudsman will try to find an amicable solution which puts the matter right and satisfies you.
If this fails, the Ombudsman can make recommendations to the institution concerned. If it does not accept her recommendations, she can make a special report to the European Parliament so that it can take whatever political action is necessary.
If the Ombudsman cannot deal with your complaint – for example, if it has already been the subject of a court case – she will do her best to advise you which other body may be able to help.