Ombudsman: politically sensitive complaints must be addressed

The European Ombudsman criticises the Commission of maladministration as to handling of an infringement complaint by an EU citizen. Politically sensitive or not, complaints need to be dealt in due time, he says. 

The European Ombusdman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, published, on 30 May 2006, a special report on Commission’s administrative handling of a complaint about sports betting services. A special report is the strongest possible action the Ombudsman can take. Since the establishment of the European Ombusdman in 1995, the institution has issued only 13 special reports.

The report indicates that “the Ombudsman considers that the present case raises an important issue of principle, namely the question as to whether the Commission is entitled indefinitely to delay its handling of complaints alleging an infringement of Community law by a member state on the grounds that it is unable to reach a political consensus on how to proceed”. 

The Ombusdman report states that the Commission has a duty to deal properly with all infringement complaints, even if they are ‘highly politically sensitive or controversial’. He thus recommends the Commission to “deal with the complainant’s infringement complaint diligently and without undue delay”.

However, the Ombudsman’s special report is, at this point, out-dated, as the Commission has reached a decision in the meantime. A decision of formal notice was adopted by the College of Commissioners on 4 April 2006, when several similar complaints concerning gambling services were handled together (see EURACTIV 5 April 2006).

The German authorities ordered a provider of sports betting services to stop offering its services. Finding that this violated the EU law on freedom to provide services, the service provider submitted an infringement complaint to the Commission against German authorities in February 2004. 

The Commission never really reacted to the complaint, even though it is supposed to investigate the complaint and arrive at a decision within no more than one year from the registration of a complaint. The Commission's inactivity lead the sports betting service provider to complain about the Commission's maladministration to the European Ombusdman in January 2005. 

Since the European Ombudsman seized the issue, the Commission has admitted that it has not yet taken a decision regarding this infringement complaint because the issues was 'politically highly sensitive' and the College of Commissioners was not able to reach a political consensus on how to proceed on this specific complaint.

  • As the Commission has reached a decision on the case, it does not have to react on the report.
  • The special report has been sent to the European Parliament for reaction.

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