The European Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros
Nikiforos Diamandouros, the European Ombudsman, presented his 2010 annual report to the EP in Strasbourg Thursday. MEPs congratulated the Ombudsman on his work but deplored the large and increasing number of complaints against the Commission. Mr Diamandouros spoke to us and gave his views on his role and the complaints his team receives.
In 2010, Europeans complained less than the year before. Why is that?
Most citizens do not understand what is in my mandate and what is not. To come to me, a complaint has to fulfil two conditions: it has to be about the violation of an EU law by an EU institution. Around 70% of the complaints that come to me should have gone to the national Ombudsmen. To avoid this, I have completely overhauled my website. It now has a powerful interactive guide, which gives answers about possible complaints. There has been a 23% decline in the number of inadmissible complaints, which now go to the right place - which is a success.
What were the most common allegations you examined in 2010?
Allegations come in five main categories: 1. lack of transparency, 2. tenders and grants, 3. EU institution staff complaints (prior or instead of going to court), 4. EPSO (European Personnel Selection Office) and 5. the role of the Commission as guardian of the treaties. Any citizen can complain if he or she considers the Commission hasn't dealt properly with an infringement procedure, in cases where a member state has failed to comply with EU law.
Is there one case that stands out in particular?
The ultimate weapon that I have is to submit a special report to the EP. I did this last year after a commissioner refused an NGO access to documents about German carmaker Porsche for 15 months - the legal obligation being 3 months.
European institutions largely comply with your decisions, but you still get a number of unsatisfactory replies to your critical remarks. How do you tackle this?
I monitor how the institutions follow up on my criticisms. Six months after I have made the criticism, I invite them to tell me what action they have taken, forcing them to be accountable.
In your new strategy, you introduced continuous dialogue with petitioners. Why is this important?
The Lisbon Treaty enhances dialogue with citizens. As an institution which deals with complaints, it is logical for me to try and reach citizens systematically and also to educate the other EU institutions to do the same.
What do you like most about your job?
I like dealing with a good professional civil service that knows the rules of the game. Even when the EU institutions do not sufficiently know the law, I can engage in meaningful dialogue with them. I also like my job because it gives me the opportunity to reach out to the citizens of 27 member states plus those in the candidate countries. I like to be able to serve citizens and to promote a culture of service.
Interview originally published on 31 October 2011.