EU Ombudsman Jacob Söderman will be given more power to monitor the Union's governance. One of the new features of his brief will be the fact that EU officials will have to tell him the truth.
According to Helsingin Sanomat (28 August 2001), current rules make it possible for officials to put a positive spin on matters on the excuse that they have to remember what is good for their institutions. They also have to maintain their professional secrets when answering the Ombudsman's questions.
"In future, they have to tell the whole truth", Söderman says.
Helsingin Sanomat recounts that Söderman had already asked for more power almost two years ago. He thought that the brief of the Ombudsman was not quite clear. EU Parliament is expected to agree to his request this week. After that the Commission and the Council of Ministers will deal with the matter.
Some member countries might question the fact that the Ombudsman would automatically get hold of classified documents. On the other hand, he could not distribute any further secret documents. Under current practice, Söderman has to apply to relevant member countries for secret papers.
The Commission is opposed to the reform because officials might have to take a stance against their bosses.
"For the Commission, this is another chance to prove that they are serious, having been spoken so much about openness", Söderman says.
He would have liked to have the right to question Commissioners as well but the Commission would have none of it.
The EU Parliament would be prepared to extend the Ombudsman's rights in some cases even to the extent of reading officials' email messages. This would give him almost unlimited possibilities to look into suspected problems.
Söderman says that often he has had to negotiate for weeks with the Commission in order to obtain documents.
"This has led to serious delays in dealing with cases", he adds.
The Parliament's statement acknowledges that in order to be able to monitor governance effectively, the Ombudsman has to have greater right to documents than do individual citizens whom he has to defend.
8 August 2001
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