Emily O’Reilly elected European Ombudsman

Former journalist secured position after run-off against Dutch MEP

Ombudsman Emily O’ Reilly is a strong favourite to take the position of European Ombudsman going into today’s second vote in the European Parliament. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Ombudsman Emily O’ Reilly is a strong favourite to take the position of European Ombudsman going into today’s second vote in the European Parliament. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 3, 2013, 14:16

Emily O’ Reilly has been appointed European Ombudsman following a second round of voting in the European Parliament in Strasbourg today.

The Irish Ombudsman, tipped to take the job after a strong showing in yesterday’s first round of voting, was elected after a run-off against Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten.

Ms O’Reilly secured 359 votes from MEPs to Ms Oomen-Ruijten’s 276, with 318 needed to secure the required majority.

In an earlier vote today, Ms Oomen-Ruijten outpolled Ms O’Reilly by 248 to 232 votes before other candidates were eliminated.

Ms O’Reilly will take up the Strasbourg-based post, which comes with a €248,000 salary, on October 1st. The former journalist has served as Ombudsman in Ireland since 2003. The European Ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints about the European Institutions and various EU agencies.

Ms O’Reilly said she hoped to raise the profile of the EU Ombudsman office during her term and that she hoped the role could have a greater impact.

She said she was confident she could handle the job even though it was on a larger scale. “I think it’s immensely doable,” she told RTÉ Radio.

Outgoing European Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, congratulated Ms O’Reilly on her election and said he believed she would capably serve as a bridge between European citizens and the EU administration.

“Her experience in impressively restructuring and successfully running an ombudsman institution at the national level will undoubtedly be extremely valuable to her new institution,” he said.

Mr Diamandouros is retiring after more than 10 years in the role. His departure before the end of the current Parliament means Ms O’Reilly will have to be re-elected by MEP’s next year following the May 2014 European elections.

In a statement, Taoiseach Enda Kenny wished Ms O’Reilly well in her new role “protecting the rights of EU citizens”.

“I send my congratulations to Emily O’Reilly on this great achievement,” he said. “It is an indication of her high calibre as a candidate and of the quality of the presentations she made. The fact that she had the full support of Irish MEPs is testament to her many years of work as Irish Ombudsman.”

A total of six people were in the running for the position, with Ms O’Reilly and Ms Oomen-Ruijten pulling away from their rivals in the first round of voting yesterday.

German MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt finished third in that vote, followed by Italian MEP Francesco Speroni and Dutch ombudsman Alex Brenninkmeijer and German EU official Markus Jaeger. Mr Jaeger and Mr Brenninkmeijer withdrew from the race yesterday.

Ms O’ Reilly gained the support of a number of MEPs who believe that the role should go to an independent candidate, rather than an MEP. Her well-received presentation at the European Parliament’s petitions committee last month, as well as a number of informal presentations to the European Parliament’s various political groupings last week in Brussels, bolstered her support.

European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefcovic said Ms O’Reilly was “a superb choice with long experience of what the job involves”.

“It is important that EU institutions and the Ombudsman, together, get the message across that the European Union and its institutions care about peoples’ needs and problems and do everything that is in their power to address them in a concrete way,” he said.