Letter from three MEPs against politicisation of EU Ombudsman

Dear  colleagues,

As you know the European parliament will choose next fall the new European Ombudsman. The current Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros who has held the position since 2003, was re-appointed by an absolute majority of MEPs to serve a fresh five-year term at a plenary vote in January 2010. Nikiforos Diamandouros is widely praised for his independent position and critical reports which aim at improving governance and transparency of European institutions. After his election in 2010Diamandouros said het wanted to work “to improve the quality of the EU administration and to promote a culture of service in the EU institutions for the benefit of European citizens”. MEP and rapporteur Chrysoula Paliadeli (S&D) recognised in 2009 the Ombudsman’s efforts to improve performance of the EU institutions and underlined that “the Ombudsman has supported the rule of law with great sensitivity”. MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (ALDE) said at the time that “while Diamandouros was in office the position of the Ombudsman has grown; the acceptance and the confidence towards this institution has increased noticeably”.

The candidate Ombudsman needs to collect at least 40 signatures from MEP’s, is then heard by the PETI Committee and is then elected in plenary by secret ballot at the start of each parliamentary term.
There are currently 5 candidates trying to run for the post of the new European Ombudsman. MEP´colleagues Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (S&D) and Ria Oomen-Ruiten (EPP) have both gathered more than 100 signatures of support from MEPs from their own groups (and still counting). The other outstanding candidates, the current Irish Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, the current Dutch Ombudsman, Alex Brenninkmeijier, and the German candidate from the Council of Europe, Marcus Jaeger, are finding it much more difficult to get the 40 signatures needed.

Not at all doubting the qualifications of the two EP-candidates and their capabilities to fulfil this job, we nevertheless think the European Ombudsman needs to have a more political neutral profile. It is important to underline that art. 6(2) of the Statute of the Ombudsman states that the candidate shall offer every guarantee of independence. 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.

This parliament even has a young tradition in this. At the time of the 2003 Ombudsman elections Spanish MEP Enrique Barón Crespo, then leader of the Socialist group said: “At the beginning of this process we took a clear decision that the election of a new Ombudsman should not be a political contest and that our support for any particular candidate would be on the basis of competence and experience. We also agreed not to vote for any present or former MEP for the post. It is clear to any objective observer that Professor Diamandouros admirably fulfils the conditions required for the position of EU Ombudsman and I am happy to note that support for his candidature was also to be found in other political groups of the Parliament.”

Politicising the nomination process of the new European Ombudsman now, is especially not a good idea in these times of rising euro-scepticism. Therefore, in order to ensure the continued trust and respect of both the citizens (but also the other EU-institutions) in the impartiality of the Ombudsman’s office, we need a candidate that is independent to continue and develop the good work of the two previous Ombudsmen.
To give you an idea of the workload, the current Ombudsman recorded 3406 complaints in 2008. Of the 296 inquiries opened in 2008 by the Ombudsman, 36% dealt with a lack of transparency, including a refusal to provide information or documents. MEPs said to be concerned about this, since a transparent administration is crucial to building public trust in the EU. Most of the inquiries launched by the Ombudsman in 2008 concerned the European Commission (66%). Other targets were the administration of the European Parliament (10%), the European Personnel Selection Office EPSO (7%), the Council (3%) and the European Anti-Fraud Office (2%).

Therefore, to make sure that in order for the EP to have a choice between politicised and independent candidates, we should have at least two truly qualified and independent candidates in the final round. We urge you to give broad support for at least the two candidates who have an outstanding experience as Ombudsman.

Bart Staes
Margarete Auken
Bas Eickhout

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