In this programme we’re talking transparency and blame games, with the woman tasked with dealing with official complaints about the European Union – its institutions and agencies. Emily O’Reilly is the Irish former political journalist who is now in her second five-year term as the EU Ombudsman.
In Talking Europe, she tells us why she believes the European Union did not equip the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) with sufficient powers to help mitigate the early effects of the Covid-19 pandemic: “The ECDC was created in the wake of the SARS epidemic, which affected very few people in Europe, compared to what is happening now. The powers between the ECDC and EU member states were asymmetrical – while the ECDC had a very big title it didn’t have the right to demand data from the member states.”
Another big area for the Ombudsman is transparency in lawmaking. O’Reilly has criticised the fact that member states’ individual stances are not recorded during meetings of the European Council – the body made up of the ministers and heads of state and government of the EU.
“The European Council is obliged to legislate in public and European citizens also have a right to take part in the democratic life of the Union, and they can only do that if they have an idea of what is going on in the first place. They are able to have sensitive proposals put on ice for years because nobody knows what is going on. I think there is a balance to be struck, but I don’t think the balance is there at the moment,” she says.
The EU Ombudsman’s office is also looking into transparency issues with the European Union’s Border and Coast Guard agency, which has been given increased powers, responsibilities and resources in response to the increase in irregular migration over recent years.
O’Reilly tells FRANCE 24: “Of course if you greatly expand the number of border guards and greatly increase the activity then of course there are increased risks of violation of people’s fundamental rights in relation to that.”
Produced by Mathilde Bénézet, Isabelle Romero, Céline Schmitt and Perrine Desplats