September 2001

Ombudsman slams Commission

EU Ombudsman Jacob Söderman accuses the Commission of bluffing on promised reforms. In a hard-hitting recent speech in Strasbourg Söderman complained that in its White Paper this summer, the Commission had forgotten the most important group, i.e. citizens. According to the Ombudsman, the paper did not propose any concrete actions on how to strengthen the position of EU citizens.

The White Paper aims to improve the governance of the Commission. According to Helsingin Sanomat (7 September 2001), reforms are seen as necessary because of citizens' increased indifference and hostility towards the EU.

Söderman does not think that the White Paper improved the Commission's image in the eyes of citizens. The Ombudsman said that there were several things the Commission could have done. It could have proposed new common rules for EU officials on how to treat and serve citizens when they do business with EU institutions. It could have reformed the way the Commission monitors EU operations. And it could have created rules for officials' freedom of speech.

"Taking citizens into account in the EU is the only way in which the Union can regain the lost trust of citizens", Söderman said.

Helsingin Sanomat notes that after the Irish 'No' to the Nice Treaty and the riots during the Gothenburg summit, the question of citizens' trust has gained new urgency.

The EU is preparing other directives which aim to please citizens. One of them — which was approved by parliament recently — obliges EU officials to adhere to standardised rules and customs when dealing with citizens. Officials are instructed to behave in a proper and polite manner. They must respond to letters from the public and apologise for their mistakes and correct them as soon as possible. They must allow people to read documents if they are not secret.

Parliament also gave the Ombudsman more power to monitor the EU's administration. Söderman will be allowed to inspect officials' email messages. He was also given access to secret documents. From now on, officials must tell the Ombudsman the whole truth without trying to put a positive spin on matters under scrutiny.

See also:

From the archive:

Ombudsman concerned about EU openness

12 April 2001

EU reluctant to be more open

14 March 2001

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