EU Ombudsman creates ‘good practices’ list to combat harassment

Written by Martin Banks on 2 January 2019 in News
News

The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, has drawn up a list of “good practices” after reviewing the anti-harassment policies in 26 EU institutions and agencies.

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The anti-harassment practices cover awareness raising, workplace risk assessment, regular policy monitoring, mandatory training, swift procedures, and rehabilitation measures.

“While the EU institutions generally have good anti-harassment policies, my report shows that more can and must be done to bring them into line with the legitimate expectations of a post #MeToo society,” O’Reilly said.

“The aim of this mapping exercise is to assist in the standardising of these identified practices across all EU institutions,” she added.


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Other important measures include allowing trainees to make formal complaints about harassment, regular training for confidential counsellors and the setting up of a pool of independent investigators, which institutions can draw upon during formal harassment investigations.

POWER IMBALANCE

The Ombudsman says harassment cases can involve a “significant power imbalance” and suggests stronger rules for high-ranking personnel.

Examples of good practice include the European Court of Auditors’ anti-harassment policy, which has strong disciplinary measures for culpable members, such as compulsory retirement or denial of pension rights.

O’Reilly’s overarching finding is that all EU personnel - regardless of their status - should be covered by anti-harassment policies, and that the protection extend to acts committed by all personnel, including high-ranking individuals.

"What sets a good workplace apart is whether it has a culture of zero tolerance towards harassment and whether staff are informed about their rights and are empowered to act" EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly

“All workplaces can be affected by harassment; what sets a good workplace apart is whether it has a culture of zero tolerance towards harassment and whether staff are informed about their rights and are empowered to act,” said O’Reilly.

The Ombudsman will take these good practices into account in future when considering any complaints about how EU institutions have handled harassment issues.

TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Meanwhile, Petitions Committee MEPs have voiced concern that transparency and accountability, namely access to information and documents-related inquires, continue to account for the largest number of cases handled by the Ombudsman in 2017.

They approved a resolution on the Ombudsman's annual report for 2017 with 26 votes but are concerned that the transparency-related inquiries continue to top the list of received inquiries and underline that all EU institutions, agencies and bodies should feel compelled to guarantee full transparency and the highest ethical standards.

In order to increase citizens’ trust and improve the EU’s image, maximum transparency and improved public access to documents of EU institutions must be guaranteed, said the committee in the resolution.

They said the ombudsman report “reminds that EU legislation on access to documents is seriously outdated” while a mandatory EU Transparency register for lobbyists has yet to be adopted.

MEPs said they recognise the need for full transparency of the decision-making process and of EU administration and commend the Ombudsman’s inquiry into informal negotiations between the three main institutions and support the publication of all “trilogue” documents.

The report also stressed that the decisions made within the Council during the EU legislative process must be available to the public and demands that the Council, as co-legislator, revise its confidentiality policy in order to guarantee the highest level of transparency.

SPOTLIGHT ON MALADMINISTRATION

The resolution commends the Ombudsman’s role in “bringing instances of maladministration to light by adopting a case-by-case approach and increasing the number of own-initiative inquiries.”

The MEPs, in their assessment, said, “The Ombudsman’s report underlines that two of the most important ethical issues occurred in 2017, namely the meeting between former Commission President Barroso and the current Commission Vice President, of which the exact nature was unclear, according to the Ombudsman.”

“The second is the continued membership of the European Central Bank President of the G30 group, a private organisation with members of bank representatives, indirectly or directly monitored by the ECB.”

The parliamentary resolution goes on to say, “The Ombudsman’s work in strengthening ethics and accountability rules within EU institutions must continue. MEPs strongly believe in applying stricter and clearer standards throughout EU institutions, agencies and bodies, while ensuring independence from the private sector."

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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