On Wednesday, Members of the European Parliament voted to re-elect Emily O’Reilly to serve as the European Ombudsman until 2024. Ms. O’Reilly finished ahead of the Estonian judge Julia Laffranque, with 320 to 280 votes in the third round of a secret ballot.
Originally from Tullamore, Ireland, Ms. O’Reilly is an award-winning journalist who was first elected as the European Ombudsman in 2013 after serving as the joint Irish Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Environmental Information. She was the first female European Ombudsman, preceded by Jacob Söderman (1995-2003) and Paraskevas Nikiforos Diamandouros (2003-2013).
Ms. O’Reilly’s first term as the European Ombudsman was not without controversy. She launched repeated investigations into the promotion of Martin Selmayr to the post of Secretary General of the Commission. Her report found that the Commission had breached its own guidelines on making appointments.
She also investigated the hiring of the former European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, as an executive at Goldman Sachs bank. The bank was criticized for its part in causing the 2008 global financial crisis and the eurozone debt crisis. Much to the disappointment of O’Reilly, an EU ethics panel cleared Barroso of breaching bloc rules on lobbying in 2016.
Earlier this month, when addressed the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament, Emily O’Reilly pledged to help make the EU a role model of administration for the Member States.
She told MEPs that, “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”.
Over the next 5 years, Ms. O’Reilly intends to push for greater transparency in what the EU Ambassadors and Ministers do in Brussels as part of a drive for greater transparency in the Council of Ministers, a body compromising national ministers who vote, together with the European Parliament, on various aspects of European rules.
In a recent press interview, the newly-elected Ombudsman singled out tackling the ‘blame Brussels’ culture and set her sights on the new Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, who she will be holding to account on “commitments on good administration, transparency and ethics. I look forward to our first meeting”.