SME Chamber

Ombudsman helped 22,000 citizens in 2011

 In 2011, the European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, helped more than 22 000 European citizens, companies, NGOs, and associations, either by investigating complaints, answering information requests, or giving advice via his online interactive guide. More than 18 000 citizens used the guide to obtain advice on where to turn with their problems.

The Ombudsman received 2 510 complaints in 2011, compared to 2 667 in 2010. He opened a record number of 396 investigations into alleged maladministration by the EU administration. This represents an increase of 18% compared to the previous year, when 335 inquiries were opened.

In 2011, Spain, with 361 complaints, overtook Germany (308) with the greatest number of complaints, followed by Poland (233) and Belgium (190). Relative to population, however, the greatest proportion of complaints came from Luxembourg and Cyprus.

At the presentation of his Annual Report 2011 in Brussels, Mr Diamandouros said: "As well as helping thousands of European citizens to find solutions to their individual problems, my inquiries also benefit citizens more generally by contributing to the improvement of the quality and responsiveness of the EU administration, and by clarifying what the administration is doing and why. The inquiries into radiation levels in imported food after the Fukushima disaster, into potential conflicts of interest in EU institutions, and into the range of languages used in public consultations all illustrate this broader impact".

As in the past, the most common subject matter of the Ombudsman's inquiries in 2011 was lack of transparency in the EU administration, including refusal to release documents or information. A welcome development this year was that the percentage of transparency-related cases decreased from 33% in 2010 to 25%. Other cases concerned problems with the execution of EU contracts or calls for tender, unfairness, and discrimination.

In 66% of all inquiries closed in 2011 (212 cases), the Ombudsman was able to achieve a positive outcome, because the institutions concerned accepted a friendly solution proposal, settled a problem, or submitted a satisfactory reply. He found maladministration in 47 cases, a slight increase compared to 40 cases in 2010. Most of the inquiries opened in 2011 concerned the European Commission (58%), followed by the EU Agencies taken together (13%), the European Personnel Selection Office (11%), and the European Parliament (4%). In 2011, the Ombudsman transferred 1 288 complaints to national or regional ombudsmen in the Member States, the European Parliament's Petitions Committee, the European Commission, and other problem-solving mechanisms, such as SOLVIT or Your Europe Advice.

The Ombudsman's Overview 2011 (in the 23 official EU languages) and the full Annual Report (currently available in English, with the 22 other language versions to follow in July) are available at: The European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the EU institutions and bodies. Any EU citizen, resident, or an enterprise or association in a Member State, can lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman offers a fast, flexible, and free means of solving problems with the EU administration. For more information:

Selection of 2011 cases

Commission clarifies food contamination levels after Fukushima accident

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan.

The accident led to increased radioactive contamination. The Ombudsman received several complaints from citizens about a lack of information concerning changes made to the maximum permitted levels of radioactive contamination for foodstuffs imported from Japan to the EU. After the Ombudsman's investigation, the Commission submitted the requested clarifications and explained that, initially, the maximum radiation levels permitted in imported foodstuffs were higher than those permitted in Japan itself, but were lowered to the Japanese levels a few weeks later.

NGO receives EUR 70 000 from the Commission

The Ombudsman helped settle a dispute between the European Commission and the NGO Migration Policy Group (MPG) concerning an EU project launched as part of the "European Migration Dialogue". After an audit, the Commission issued a recovery order for more than EUR 130 000 because MPG had delivered supporting documents for staff costs too late. MPG complained about the "disproportionate" nature of the recovery order. The Commission eventually accepted the Ombudsman's friendly solution proposal and refunded EUR 70 000 to the NGO.

Potential conflicts of interest in 'revolving door' cases

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma is in charge of risk assessment in the EU regarding food and feed safety. Its role is to provide independent scientific advice, in collaboration with national authorities and other stakeholders. A German NGO turned to the Ombudsman, complaining that EFSA did not adequately address a potential conflict of interest concerning the move of the Head of EFSA's Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Unit to a biotechnology company. After his investigation, the Ombudsman called on EFSA to strengthen its rules to avoid potential conflicts of interest in 'revolving door' cases. In March 2012, EFSA published new rules with a view to avoiding potential conflicts of interest.

Commission should publish public consultations in all EU languages

The European Commission regularly carries out public consultations in order to allow citizens, companies, and other stakeholders to participate in the EU's decision-making process. A Spanish lawyer complained that public consultations are often only published in English. The Ombudsman shared the complainant's view that citizens cannot be expected to participate in a consultation which they are unable to understand. According to the Ombudsman, multilingualism is essential for citizens to exercise their right to participate in the democratic life of the EU, which is guaranteed by the Lisbon Treaty. He called on the institution to publish its public consultation documents in all 23 EU languages or, alternatively, to provide translations upon request.

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