EU Ombudsman candidates make last-minute pitch to MEPs
Each candidate told members of the petitions committee at a parliamentary hearing why they should be elected.
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MEPs will vote on the next European Ombudsman during the December plenary in Strasbourg.
Setting out his stall, one of the candidates, Nils Muižnieks asked deputies, "What does my candidacy represent? My candidacy represents a balance between continuity and evolutionary change.”
“I would respect the legacy of my predecessors, but bring the office closer to the people, raise its fundamental rights profile, and intensify cooperation with national human rights structures and ombudsmen.”
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“My candidacy is a politically-independent one - as Commissioner there was never a hint that I was anything but completely independent; here, my candidacy was supported by signatures from six different political groups and I would work with and for all of you.”
He added, “I have expertise - I know the law, always seek good legal advice, but have a broader view that comes from a wealth of real-life experience. I represent putting the office in safe hands - I have a strong record of achievement and good cooperation with parliamentarians in various capacities.”
Julia Laffranque, an Estonian jurist, also made a presentation to the committee, telling members she would be “independent and impartial” if elected later this month.
She pledged to visit all regional ombudsmen’s offices in Europe within the first six months of the mandate where she would “meet with citizens and civil society to understand their issues within the EU administration.”
“I would respect the legacy of my predecessors, but bring the office closer to the people, raise its fundamental rights profile, and intensify cooperation with national human rights structures and ombudsmen” Nils Muižnieks
Her “action plan” also includes building trust and credibility for the role which investigates alleged maladministration by the EU.
Saying she would focus on digital and fundamental rights for citizens, she said, “What you see today is exactly what you will get from me. I am not afraid to speak my mind and that is what I will do.”
Emily O’Reilly, the current EU Ombudsman, who was first elected in 2013, told the committee, “I believe that I have implemented all of my first mandate promises. I have given the office its appropriate focus and strength within the EU administration, and I am looking for your support to make sure that the work can continue, to the benefit of European citizens.”
O’Reilly was also Ombudsman in Ireland for ten years and cited her previous roles as Information Commissioner and Irish Commissioner for Environmental Information.
“For over 15 years, I conducted my work as an Ombudsman with energy, determination and independence and significantly strengthened and modernised the two offices that I led,” she said.
“What you see today is exactly what you will get from me. I am not afraid to speak my mind and that is what I will do” Julia Laffranque
“I am confident that my experience in the role of Ombudsman demonstrates that I am capable of leading this European Office for a second and last term. Critical to the success of the last mandate has been my deep understanding of the particular role of the Ombudsman in the EU administration.”
The official added, “The European model by contrast is a soft law model, aimed at improving the administration and holding it to account through the examination of complaints but also through other means of influencing positive change.”
The European Ombudsman is a small office with less than 70 posts but, she said, “its size in no way indicates its capacity or it’s potential.”
“We are a small office with a big treaty mandate.”
Since her election, she told members she had helped “transform” the office with her colleagues.
“We now have a gender-balanced management team, after a 90 percent male team in 2013; have implemented ‘plain writing’ in all our casework and communications output to connect better with citizens and have revamped the European Network of Ombudsman spanning over 95 offices throughout Europe.”
“I believe that I have implemented all of my first mandate promises. I have given the office its appropriate focus and strength within the EU administration” Emily O’Reilly
She said, “We now receive more complaints per year than ever before and have reduced the inquiry time by over 40 percent - evidence of the success of the strategy we have pursued.”
She says she has striven to be “the eyes and ears of the citizen” and dealing “with problems that they may not be aware of.”
“To give one example, I have used this power to help individuals with disabilities, in part to address the fact that we have received relatively few complaints in this area in the past.”
Other inquiries have been focused on issues “which can seem very far away for an average person but have a very real impact on their lives.”
“Most Europeans do not know what a Trilogue is, or what a Commission Expert Group does, and even fewer people fully understand the system of delegated and implementing acts. However, by making these systems more comprehensible, and by improving their administration, we are essentially helping citizens to exercise their right to have their say in what the EU does.”
The other candidates for EU Ombudsman are Guiseppe Fortunato and Cecelia Wikström.
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