‘One Ombudsman (EU) or Many (UK)? Interpreting the Singularity of Actors in the EU

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Series Details Vol.19, No.4, December 2013, p739–757
Publication Date December 2013
ISSN 1354-3725
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This paper aims at explaining a paradox. At the European Union (EU) level, a vast entity often characterized by diversity and multilevel governance, one Ombudsman operates, based in Strasbourg. On the contrary, in certain EU Member States, including the UK, which will serve as a case-study here, a plethora of ombudsmen has emerged, an 'ombudsmania' according to some scholars, which extends to the private sector. It will be argued that this asymmetry may be explained if we compare the constitutional priorities further to which the Ombudsman (or the Ombudsmen) was (were) created in the respective polities. The paper finds that in Europe, the Ombudsman and his/her maladministration control was mainly activated to bring the citizens closer to the EU and to bridge the democratic gap; in this context, the role of the Ombudsman cannot be dissociated from the strengthening of the European demos. In the UK, the goal was to increase efficiency in administration by addressing maladministration; this has been achieved via a variety of ombudsmen, frequently operating under an explicitly defined mandate, offering specialized knowledge and expertise. The singularity or plurality of actors may be seen as corresponding to two different ombudsman 'models' in a given polity. Finally, the creation of the European Ombudsman in accordance with the abovementioned constitutional priority could serve as further evidence of the particularity of the polity when compared to international organizations.

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