Speech by Vice-President Šefčovič on the European Ombudsman 25th Anniversary

©European Union, 2021, Source: EC - Audiovisual Service©European Union, 2021, Source: EC - Audiovisual Service

“Check against delivery”


Good morning to everyone,

First, I would like to thank Emily O’Reilly for your kind invitation to participate in this very important conference, and to appreciate our common work over the last few years. I also remember very vividly our first meeting after your first election and your ambitions presented during that time, but also now in your introductory remarks.

Also thanks to the great work done by you and your predecessors, which you mentioned in your introductory remarks. Thanks to your contributions and to the courage and energy you brought to the office. Today we can really speak about your office being an integral piece in the structure of European democracy.

I think that the work of the Ombudsman, as you referred to a couple minutes ago, is now more important than ever. We see how the situation in our Member States, in our Union is getting difficult because of the COVID-19 crisis, because of the economic slowdown, because of the worries people have on their mind when thinking about unemployment, school and about their future. It is only natural that at this stage they expect the most from their national but also from European leaders.

They deserve an effective Union, which works for them, in an open and transparent manner.

I would like to underline the fact that the Ombudsman really serves as a bulwark for ensuring this is the case; any citizen who has the treasured European citizenship can turn to your office, to the European Ombudsman to ensure their rights are respected – that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is fully applied. That they have a guarantee of the right to vote in European and local elections, the right to petition the European Parliament, or the right to submit a complaint of maladministration.

I would also like to send greetings from Berlaymont to the Chair of the Petitions Committee, Madam Montserrat, who is also bringing a lot of new ideas on how the Petitions Committee and the Ombudsman can work even better with the European Commission, in order to offer the best service possible to our citizens.

I think that the link, which was institutionally established, was really built to strengthen over the years, with the concrete actions and the role played by the European Parliament in electing the European Ombudsman, but also by the right of the members of the European Parliament to ask the Ombudsman to launch enquiries.

I believe that in the past 25 years, a lot has been done and I consider the office of the European Ombudsman as one of the key offices, which helped us to maintain public trust in the European Union.

The Ombudsman has become a valuable point of contact for all Europeans in what is sometimes perceived as a very complex institutional structure. I know how many petitions the Petitions Committee receives, how many letters the Office of The Ombudsman receives, and how professionally you are managing all of them and trying to provide citizens with the best possible answers. All that needs energy and positive attitude and I know that the current Ombudsman, Madam O’Reilly, not only has plenty of energy, but also a big drive in making sure that the Office of the Ombudsman works better and better. She has shown great commitment and dedication in her 8 years (and counting) in the role, and I would like to thank and convey gratitude on behalf of all EU institutions for your valuable work, Ms O’Reilly, but also for the work of your colleagues in the Ombudsman office.

I have to say that I am delivering this message of gratitude on behalf of, what I would describe, your biggest client, the European Commission. We are working very closely together and most of the issues, which we are dealing with, is to make sure our citizens get the service they expect from the top quality European administration.

And, I very much appreciate when issues do arise, that we can work hand in hand with the Ombudsman to ensure that the views of our citizens are taken into account and we are always looking for the positive and possible solutions. 

This close cooperation allows us to work together to resolve the vast majority of complaints without the need for maladministration decisions. And we appreciate this very much.

This often means striving to improve the way we work. For example, we pledged to start publishing more information about Commissioners’ travel expenses in what was described by the Ombudsman as a ‘very positive step’.

We overhauled the rules around the hundreds of expert groups to improve our oversight, based on proposals presented by the Ombudsman.

And, we worked with the Ombudsman to launch a fast-track procedure concerning access to document inquiries.

To this end, the Commission is also developing an online portal called the Electronic Access to Commission Documents. This will make it easier for all Europeans to learn more about access to documents, submit new requests, launch an appeal against Commission replies and search for previously disclosed documents requested by other applicants. The portal will go live in the second quarter of 2021 and I believe it will further strengthen transparency in the European Union.

These are just a few examples, which we can present in the very tight schedule of your conference, but just to give you one figure on the Ombudsman work, I would use the figure of 2019. In that year, the Ombudsman helped nearly 20,000 people, launching and resolving hundreds of enquiries. This is a very impressive number.

I have no doubt that Ms O’Reilly will continue to build on this impressive body of work, and I can assure you all that she will have the full support of the European Commission in all her endeavours.

The Ombudsman’s biennial Award for Good Administration, for example, is a very good example of how to inspire civil servants, how to motivate them, how to foster good administration, but also how to give them recognition for their good work and services. And I am not just saying that because the Commission has won the first two overall awards!

Ultimately, all the different institutions, bodies and agencies of the EU have the same goals as the European Ombudsman:

Achieving the highest possible administrative standards in our relations with citizens, associations and businesses.

Then, increasing confidence and belief in the European institutions while making the benefits of the EU more tangible for Europeans.

None of us is perfect and there will always be mistakes made and problems to fix when it comes to public administration. But by working together we can minimise and resolve these to the advantage of all Europeans.

On behalf of, not only of the Commission but of all the other institutions, bodies and agencies of the European Union, I will conclude by underlining our wholehearted commitment to working together with you, ever more closely, Emily, as we look forward to the next 25 years of the European Ombudsman.

Good luck, lots of positive energy, great creative ideas, we are looking forward to hear them and to work on them with you and your office.

Thank you very much.