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The European Ombudsman

Since 1995, the European Ombudsman, on behalf of Europe’s citizens, has been investigating cases of alleged maladministration by European Union (EU) institutions or bodies, i.e. the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, etc. This European Parliament Decision establishes the position of the European Ombudsman and the conditions under which he works.

ACT

European Parliament Decision 94/262/ECSC, EC, Euratom of 9 March 1994 on the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the Ombudsman's duties [See amending acts].

Summary

This European Parliament Decision establishes the position of the European Ombudsman and the conditions under which he works.

Combating maladministration

The main role of the European Ombudsman is to investigate cases of maladministration by Community bodies and institutions. To this end, these bodies and institutions must provide the Ombudsman with all the information he requires and indicate if any of this information is classified. If so, access to the information is regulated by the security rules of the body or institution in question, as provided by Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. Member States may also be required to provide information to the Ombudsman. However, if this information is covered by laws on secrecy, the Ombudsman must not divulge it further. If the requested assistance is not provided, the Ombudsman informs the European Parliament, which then takes the necessary steps.

The Ombudsman may act either on his own initiative or following a complaint. The complainant may refer a matter to the Ombudsman via a Member of the European Parliament, but this is not obligatory.

The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance, in the exercise of their judicial function, are excluded from the scope of the Ombudsman’s powers. The Ombudsman is not empowered to investigate cases of maladministration by national, regional or local governments in the Member States. Neither can he intervene in a case already brought before a court, nor question the validity of a court decision.

Taking a complaint to the European Ombudsman

Persons wishing to submit a complaint to the European Ombudsman must meet certain eligibility conditions:

  • The complainant: any European citizen, or other natural or legal person residing or having a registered office in one of the Member States of the Union, may submit a complaint. The complainant does not have to be affected directly by the case of maladministration.
  • The subject of the complaint: the complaint must relate solely to a case of maladministration on the part of a Community body or institution. "Maladministration" means, for example, an abuse of power, administrative irregularities, discrimination, etc.
  • The deadline: a complaint regarding a case of maladministration must be lodged within two years of the date on which the facts were brought to the citizen’s attention. It should be noted that the submission of a complaint to the Ombudsman does not affect the deadlines set in any other legal or administrative procedures.
  • The last resort principle: before submitting a complaint, the complainant must take the relevant administrative steps with the institution(s) concerned.

After the initial investigations, if the Ombudsman finds that a complaint is eligible, he informs the institution concerned and asks it to submit a detailed opinion within three months. Following this, the Ombudsman will send a report, with possible recommendations, to both the European Parliament and the institution concerned. The complainant will then be given the results of the Ombudsman’s inquiries, and possible recommendations, as well as the opinion of the institution concerned. The complainant has one month to submit any comments.

If the Ombudsman finds evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, he must immediately inform the national authorities, the Community institution responsible for fighting fraud, or the Community institution for which the official or agent in question works.

The Ombudsman may cooperate, under certain circumstances, with similar national authorities in order to enhance its investigations and to better protect the rights of the complainants. Likewise, the Ombudsman may also cooperate with national institutions responsible for protecting and promoting fundamental rights.

Appointment of the Ombudsman

The European Ombudsman is elected by the European Parliament for the Parliament’s term of office (five years), with the possibility of reappointment. He is chosen among those citizens of the Union who are in full possession of their civil and political rights and who are not subject to any conflict of interest. The person chosen must be capable of exercising a senior legal function or have a demonstrated ability to accomplish the tasks of the Ombudsman.

10 The Ombudsman acts independently and accepts no instructions from any government or other organisation. During the term of his mandate, he may not exercise any other political or administrative function or occupation, paid or unpaid. He is assisted by a secretariat.

An Ombudsman who no longer meets these conditions or who has committed a grave error may be dismissed by the Court of Justice of the European Communities, at the request of the European Parliament.

Origins

The position of Ombudsman was established by the Treaty on European Union (TEU, 1992).

REFERENCES

Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Decision 94/262/ECSC, EC, Euratom 4.5.1994 - OJ L 113 of 4.5.1994
Amending act(s) Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Decision 2002/262/EC, ECSC, Euratom 9.4.2002
Applicable with effect: 1.1.2000
- OJ L 92 of 9.4.2002
Decision 2008/587/EC, Euratom 31.7.2008 OJ L 189 of 17.7.2008

This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

Last updated: 09.11.2005

See also

For further information, please consult the following websites:

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