EU’s document withholding tops ombudsman’s complaints list

Lack of transparency in EU institutions the main source of worry, says EU ombudsman

European ombudsman Emily O’Reilly: “Twenty one per cent of complaints last year related to a lack of transparency within the European institutions. EU laws and regulations are supposed to be enacted in a transparent way.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

European ombudsman Emily O’Reilly: “Twenty one per cent of complaints last year related to a lack of transparency within the European institutions. EU laws and regulations are supposed to be enacted in a transparent way.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The European Union’s failure to disclose key documents topped the list of complaints to the European Ombudsman’s office last year, EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has said.

Speaking at the launch of the European Ombudsman’s annual report for 2014 in Brussels, Ms O’Reilly said concern about lack of transparency within the EU institutions was the main source of worry for EU citizens.

“Twenty one per cent of complaints last year related to a lack of transparency within the European institutions. EU laws and regulations are supposed to be enacted in a transparent way,” Ms O’Reilly said, noting the charter of fundamental rights of the EU guarantees citizens the right to access public documents.

ECB letter

European Central BankEuropean Commission

Ms O’Reilly’s office will also open an investigation into the transparency of “trilogues” – meetings between the European Council and European Parliament where EU legislation proposed by the European Commission is debated and agreed. While more than 1,500 trilogue meetings took place over the past five years, the meetings are conducted in private.

“Trilogues are where deals are done that affect every EU citizen. They are now an established feature of how the EU adopts laws,” Ms O’Reilly said, announcing the inquiry yesterday morning. “European citizens, businesses and organisations should be able to follow each stage of the law-making procedure and to understand how the negotiators arrive at the endpoint.”

The three main EU institutions will be obliged to report back to the ombudsman’s office by September, with the investigation focusing on two files – the clinical trials regulation and the mortgage credit directive. “I think it is reasonable for a citizen to ask what deal was done, what trade-offs were made, and who made them,” Ms O’Reilly said.

The European Ombudsman investigates allegations of maladministration in the EU institutions and bodies, and any citizen, enterprise or association in the EU is free to lodge a complaint. Ms O’Reilly, a former journalist and ombudsman for Ireland, assumed the position of European Ombudsman in October 2013 and was re-elected by the European Parliament last December. Her term runs until 2019.

A total of 2,079 formal complaints were registered with the European Ombudsman’s office in 2014, the annual report shows, including 61 from citizens and businesses in Ireland. A formal inquiry by the office was opened in 15 per cent of the complaints received, while the ombudsman gave advice or transferred the case in just over 56 per cent of instances. In addition, the ombudsman initiated a number of “own-initiative” inquiries.

Revolving doors

“When senior officials from the European Commission move into the private sector, there should be an online publicly accessible register,” Ms O’Reilly said.