New old ombudsman

Irish Emily O'Reilly secured second term to further serve European citizens

Incumbent ombusdman, Irish Emily O'Reilly, was on Wednesday expectedly re-elected on the post for the 2019-2024 parliamentary term. She was backed by 320 MEPs in a secret plenary vote. Former journalist, she has served as the first female Irish Ombudsman for ten years prior to being elected European Ombudsman in 2013.

However, being elected did not went without suspense as she managed to overcome after three rounds of voting facing a strong challenge from an Estonian judge. Initially, there were five candidates for the post - Giuseppe Fortunato from Italy, Julia Laffranque from Estonia, Emily O'Reilly from Ireland, Cecilia Wikstrom from Sweden, and Nils Muiznieks from Latvia. The latter withdrew after the first round of voting.

The four remaining took part in the second round, while in the third MEPs had to choose between the two candidates with the most votes, Laffranque and O'Reilly, as set out by the rules. Laffranque received 280 votes, but Emily O'Reilly won the vote with 320. Commissioner Phil Hogan, and Irish himself, was fast to congratulated O'Reilly and said it was a sign of the recognition of her work over the past number of years.

The plenary vote was preceded by a public hearing on 3 December in the Petitions Committee. There O'Reilly pledged to continue working to make the EU administration a role model for the whole of the EU, by putting citizens and their rights at the centre of its actions. By default the Ombudsman conducts inquiries into cases of maladministration by EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, acting on their own initiative or on the basis of complaints from EU citizens.

“What the EU administration needs is to re-earn the trust of its citizens. I believe that this trust can be earned through increasing the institutions' accountability and transparency. Only when you are allowed to see how a decision is taken, can you start to understand why it was taken and only then can you start to trust”, she told MEPs.

The ombudsman's office reports back to the European Parliament each year. During her time in office, O'Reilly has launched a series of investigations, including one into the promotion of Jean Claude Junker's Chief of Staff Martin Selmayr to Secretary General of the commission. A report by O'Reilly found that the Commission had breached its own guidelines in making the appointment. Her work has increased the office's focus on transparency in the institutions, and she had a notable success when the Commission recently announced new procedures for the appointment of its general secretary.

The European Ombudsman is an independent and impartial body, established in 1995, to hold the EU's institutions and agencies, excluding the Court of Justice, to account and to promote the principles of good administration. The watchdog's office exercises 'soft powers' by dealing with complaints from people and legal entities, concerning maladministration in EU institutions, but also proactively looks into broader systemic issues, such as transparency and service-oriented behaviour. At the post Emily O'Reilly was preceded by Jacob Soderman (1995-2003) and Nikiforos Diamandouros (2003-2013).

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