European Ombudsman presents annual report

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has published her annual report.

Emily O'Reilly | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

18 May 2018

She said Brexit will create a “huge administrative mess” for citizens’ rights.

O’Reilly was speaking at a news conference on Thursday to publish her annual report.

The Irish born official said it was “still unclear” what direction the Brexit talks between the EU and UK will take in the coming weeks and months.

But, pointing out that citizens’ rights are one of her “core competences”, she told reporters she was “very closely” working with her counterpart in the UK to ensure that the issue was properly addressed before the UK exits the EU.

Along with the Irish border issue and the divorce settlement, the EU has made citizens’ rights one of its three red lines in the continuing negotiations with Britain.

She said, “It appears that citizens’ rights are creating huge confusion and will cause a great administrative mess. Clearly it is going to be a while yet before all the Brexit issues, including citizens’ rights, is finally dealt with.

“But it is very important that people know about the existence of ombudsmen and that they have the right to approach them over this issue.”

She added, “Citizens’ rights is something that of course encompasses lots of areas so it is inevitable really that it will cause lots of issues.”

She drew comparison with the Windrush scandal in the UK. The Windrush generation is named after the ship that brought the first arrivals to Britain from the Caribbean in 1948.

The UK home secretary recently admitted that 63 members of the so called Windrush generation could have been wrongfully removed or deported from the UK since 2002. Stories of

Commonwealth migrants who arrived in the UK legally as children between the late 1940s and 1973, but have no formal documentation to prove they have the right to remain in the country, have emerged in recent weeks.

O’Reilly, speaking in Brussels, said, “In terms of the impact on citizens’ rights, Brexit, when it takes hold, could multiple and magnify the Windrush cases.”

For only the second time during her five-year mandate, the Ombudsman said she had sent a special report to the European Parliament on her inquiry to improve the accountability of the Council’s legislative work. She wants the Council to be more open and transparent in its decision making. 

The Ombudsman has called for the systematic recording of member state positions both in its preparatory meetings and in COREPER (ambassador) meetings and that the Council draws up what she calls “clear and appropriate” criteria for the classification of Council documents.

The Council, she pointed out, has so far failed to respond to her recommendations by the legal three-month deadline on 9 May which is why she has decided to call on Parliament’s support.

She said, “Europeans need to know what their national governments are doing in Brussels, especially when making new EU laws which affect their daily lives. Making more information public would also help discourage national ministers from ‘blaming Brussels’ for EU laws they themselves helped to shape and adopt.

“The Council and the Parliament are equal legislators for the vast majority of EU laws, yet there is a large accountability discrepancy between them vis-à-vis the transparency of their work. While it is easy to follow an evolving piece of draft legislation in the Parliament, the same cannot be said of the Council where the national governments are represented.”

She said, “This is only the second special report I have launched, as normally EU institutions cooperate very well with my office. 

“My ultimate aim is to help citizens participate in the democratic life of the EU. Parliament’s support and action on this matter will be important ahead of the European elections next year,” said the official.

There have been only 19 special reports from the Ombudsman to Parliament since 1995 and all have been successfully supported. Four previous reports have concerned the Council, including one about the importance of the Council legislating in public.

The report also raises concerns about transparency in the EU administration which, she said, accounted for the biggest proportion of her cases (20.6 per cent) in 2017. The year also saw the number of complaints rise again due mainly to “increased visibility of the office.”

In 2017, she said her interventions led to progress in several areas, including Commission expert groups being made more transparent, the code of conduct for Commissioners being tightened and the conflict of interest rules for special advisers improved.


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