PositionOmbudsman expresses on state of civil rights in Europe - Brief Article

At a press lunch prior to presenting his report to the European Parliament's Petitions Committee, Mr Soderman hailed the size and resources of his office. He said he wanted to keep his office small - "like a guerrilla organisation" - in order to make it most effective. Mr Soderman singled out Spain, Finland and Ireland as having good Ombudsman traditions and noted the high quality of complaints it received from the United Kingdom. He noted that his office is the first and to date the only EU body that has a website in Gaelic. It also provides complaint forms in Gaelic, although he admitted that nobody has yet complained in the language. The Ombudsman said his office would be happy to deal with complaints in other minority languages such as Catalan, but was legally prevented by the Treaty from doing so.--In theory, EU institutions may now be addressed in Gaelic and Letzeburgesch, in addition to the eleven official EU languages. This is because both languages were granted special status in the Amsterdam Treaty, which entered into force in May 1999.--Lip-service to Citizens' Europe.Addressing MEPs in the Petitions Committee, the Ombudsman heralded the Charter of Fundamental Rights as the biggest step forward since the Maastricht Treaty in creating a citizen's Europe. In particular, he praised the open procedure used for drafting the Charter, which he believes led to the timely adoption of a high quality text. He noted that Article 41 of the Charter grants the right to good administration and hopes that the Commission will integrate this right in its White Paper on Governance due to be presented in July 2001. He also urged the Council to adopt a code of good administration as the Commission and the Parliament have already done.The Ombudsman described the "Solana" Decision (2000/527/EC) to restrict Council documents classified as top secret, secret and confidential as "an over-reaction". In his view, the texts drafted by Council on access to documents grant it sweeping new powers to withhold documents which have nothing to do with military or security questions. "I would like to remind the Council that European citizens should not be thought of as the enemy, but as friends" he said. He felt that the Commission was weak on the issue of having a register for all its documents, which the new Regulation will require of all EU institutions.Another danger to openness pinpointed by Mr Soderman was an over-zealous interpretation of the 1995 Directive on...

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