The office of the European Ombudsman was established in 1992 by the Maastricht Treaty to deal with complaints regarding maladministration by the institutions and bodies of the European Union. "Maladministration" means poor or failed administration and occurs if an institution fails to do something it should have done, if it does it in the wrong way or if it does something it should not have done. The role of the European Ombudsman is to safeguard the fundamental rights of citizens living in Europe by ensuring open and accountable administrations within the European Union.
European citizens have the right to complain to the European Ombudsman if they have concerns relating to maladministration by institutions and bodies of the European Community. Instances of maladministration include:
- Administrative irregularities
- Abuse of power
- Lack of information
- Refusal of information and
- Unnecessary delay.
For example, many complaints lodged with the European Ombudsman to date concern administrative delay, late payment, arbitrary discrimination, lack of transparency or refusal of access to information. Some complaints concern work relations between European institutions and their agents, recruitment of staff and the running of competitions. Others are related to contractual relations between the institutions of the European Community and private firms.
While the European Ombudsman usually conducts inquiries on the basis of complaints from European citizens, he or she can also launch investigations on his or her own initiative.
The European Ombudsman delivers an Annual Report to the European Parliament, which is translated into all the official languages of the Union. The European Ombudsman also makes official visits to all member states to enable him or her to present his or her work directly to European citizens.
Jurisdiction of the European Ombudsman
Institutions and bodies that fall within the European Ombudsman's jurisdiction include the following:
- The European Commission
- The Council of the European Union
- The European Parliament
- The Court of Auditors
- The Court of Justice (except in its judicial role)
- The European Economic and Social Committee
- The Committee of the Regions
- The European Central Bank
- The European Investment Bank
- Any other European Union body.
The European Ombudsman cannot deal with complaints concerning national, regional or local authorities of member states, even when the complaints are about European Community law. If the European Ombudsman is unable to investigate your complaint, he or she will do their best to advise you of another body that could help. This may be a national ombudsman, a regional ombudsman or committee on petitions. The European Ombudsman liases regularly with national and regional ombudsmen, as some complaints are more appropriately dealt with on a national or regional level.
Who can complain to the European Ombudsman?
If you are a citizen of a member state of the European Union or are living in a member state, you are entitled to make a complaint to the European Ombudsman. Businesses, associations or other bodies with a registered office in a member state (e.g., public authorities) may also lodge a complaint with the European Ombudsman.
What happens when you complain?
The European Ombudsman has wide powers of investigation. The institutions and bodies of the European Community must supply the European Ombudsman with any information he or she requests and give him or her access to the files concerned. Member States must also provide the European Ombudsman with information that may help to clarify instances of maladministration by European Union institutions and bodies.
There are several ways in which the European Ombudsman can attempt to solve your problem.
When the European Ombudsman tells the relevant institution about a complaint he or she has received, the institution can take steps to solve the problem. This is called settled by the institution.
If maladministration is found and the case is not settled during the inquiry, the European Ombudsman will try to find a friendly solution to satisfy you.
If this fails, he or she can make a draft recommendation to the institution, calling on it to take the necessary steps to put the maladministration right.
If the institution does not accept his or her recommendation, he or she can make a special report to the European parliament.
How long do you have to wait for results?
The European Ombudsman deals with complaints as quickly as possible. He or she aims to acknowledge the receipt of complaints within one week, decide whether to open an inquiry within one month and close inquiries within one year.
Complaints to the European Ombudsman are free of charge.
How to apply
How to complain
To complain to the Ombudsman, you should write to him or her in any of the 21 Treaty languages, setting out clearly who you are, which institution or body of the European Community you are complaining about and the grounds for your complaint.
A complaint must be made within two years of the date when you got to know the facts on which your complaint is based.
You do need not be individually affected by the maladministration but you must already have contacted the institution or body concerned, for example, by writing a letter.
The European Ombudsman will examine your complaint and you will be informed of the outcome of his or her investigation.
The European Ombudsman does not deal with matters that are currently before a court or that have already been settled by a court.
A brochure (with complaint form) entitled The European Ombudsman: Could he help you (pdf) is available from the European Ombudsman's office.
Where to apply