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Anne Friel

20th December 2019

Rule of law

Re-election of Emily O’Reilly as EU Ombudsman: what has she achieved?

On 18 December the European Parliament re-elected Emily O’Reilly for a second term as the European Ombudsman. We welcome this news and wish Ms O’Reilly the very best of luck for the next five years in office.

During her first term, Ms O’Reilly didn’t flinch in adopting decisions that challenge long-standing traditions of secrecy in the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council. Her approach demonstrated a profound understanding that the future of the EU depends on bridging the gap between decision-makers and the EU citizens they serve. For example, she recommended that EU citizens have the right to access trilogue documents.

And it is perhaps testament to her determination to tackle the most sensitive questions of transparency that the Commission and the Council have chosen not to follow the recommendations handed down in some of her more significant inquiries, for example on the transparency of Member State positions in legislative and comitology procedures.

These decisions recognise that the principles of democracy and the rule of law require transparent governance to allow citizens to engage in the democratic process before a decision has been taken. They also allow citizens to hold decision-makers to account for the positions they defend. The Ombudsman understands that these values are of the utmost importance when it comes to environmental protection.

Over the last five years, ClientEarth brought a number of matters before the Ombudsman. She did not agree with us on all matters, but each complaint was processed with meticulous attention to detail and consideration of the wider environmental impacts at stake.

For example, the Ombudsman defended our right and that of all EU consumers to access information on nanomaterials in cosmetics, to allow for informed consumer and health choices. She pushed the Council to publish the Member States’ positions when they adopt fishing quotas to ensure that they follow scientific advice. And just last week, she adopted her final decision recommending that the Commission should publish basic information on EU pilots, the procedure used by the Commission to clarify if Member States are applying EU law correctly. Access to this information would allow the public to understand where there are questions on Member State compliance with EU law. It would also give EU citizens the opportunity to follow-up with the Member State concerned and seek remedial action where this is necessary.

The Ombudsman placed citizens firmly at the centre of her first mandate. ClientEarth now calls on her to place the fight for the environment at the centre of her second. After all, what is good for the environment is good for people and, ultimately, the EU itself.

  • EU Ombudsman piles pressure on Council over fishing quota transparency
  • Commission facing EU legal watchdog over nano-chemicals in cosmetics