Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has been confirmed as an official candidate for the position of European ombudsman, having received the requisite number of supporting signatures from MEPs.
Five other candidates, including three sitting MEPs, are also running for the €248,000 post. Ms O’Reilly will appear before a special hearing of the European Parliament’s committee of petitions, which will be open to all MEPs, on June 18th. MEPs will then vote, through secret ballot, at the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg in early July.
Spectrum of support
Ms O'Reilly received the backing of 80 MEPs from across Europe's political spectrum – the written support of 40 was required to qualify. However, the three MEPs who are seeking election are understood to have each garnered the support of more than 100 signatories. The two other candidates – Dutch ombudsman Alex Brenninkmeijer and Markus Jaeger, the head of the migration division of the Council of Europe – are understood to each have the support of about 40 MEPs.
The position of ombudsman became vacant following the announcement by current holder Nikiforos Diamandouros that he would step down in October, after 10 years in the job.
But the decision of three sitting MEPs to seek the post has raised questions in Brussels. In a letter last month, three MEPs from Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark urged their colleagues to consider a "politically neutral" candidate.
“An ombudsman with clear party political affiliation and political strings attached to the European parliament, will have a more difficult job in working in full independence and live up to the crucial expectations of European citizens,” the letter said.
The European ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints about the European institutions and various agencies.
While the successful candidate will take up the position in the autumn, the resignation of Mr Diamandouros before the end of the current parliament means the successful candidate will have to be re-elected by MEPs next year following the May 2014 European elections.
Irish MEP Nessa Childers yesterday said that Ms O’Reilly has an “excellent chance” of securing election.