Ombudsman lashes Prodi master plan

Series Title
Series Details 06/09/01, Volume 7, Number 32
Publication Date 06/09/2001
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Date: 06/09/01

By John Shelley

THE European Ombudsman has launched a scathing attack on Romano Prodi's flagship proposals on the future of the EU's institutions, saying they fail to address the needs of ordinary people. Jacob Söderman insists the European Commission president's much-vaunted white paper on governance, supposedly designed to bring the Union closer to its citizens, does nothing of the sort. “In the paper they speak about the principle of openness and accountability but then if you look at the proposals there is nothing concrete in it,” the Finnish watchdog told European Voice. “I don't think Prodi's Commission is prepared to believe that the citizens should really be involved.”

Prodi unveiled the paper in July, two years after he first promised a master plan for improving the institutions' image with a sceptical public.

In the wake of Ireland's rejection of the Nice Treaty and violent anti-Union protests at the Göteborg summit, Prodi was forced to confess that the EU was too “complex and obscure”.

But Söderman said admitting the problem was meaningless without matching it with genuine action to inspire a real sense of European citizenship.

He mocked the Commission's recent attempts to open a dialogue with the wider public. “I don't think you can really involve citizens by asking for e-mails or by holding the occasional Internet discussion,” he said.

Söderman insisted it would have been “easy” for Prodi to put forward concrete plans to improve the way the Commission acts as “guardian of the treaties” - laying down clear and accountable rules on how the institution responds to people who complain their government has breached Union law.

He accused the EU executive of ignoring complaints from the public or giving them no chance to have a say in any subsequent investigation. “This is very important, we are talking about the rule of law, and yet the Commission does not inform the citizen of what is going on,” he said. “Sometimes people end up with the feeling that there has been a political fix because a case is suddenly dropped.”

The Ombudsman said that if Prodi was truly committed to accountability he could introduce a legally enforceable code of conduct for staff to replace the existing non-binding guidelines.

Prodi's white paper almost came under attack from MEPs during their sitting in Strasbourg this week. Socialist group vice-president Hannes Swobada said it made “contradictory, ambiguous and illusionary proposals”.

And Sylvia Yvonne Kaufmann, the Parliament's rapporteur on the issue, said it was written in “EU-Chinese”.

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