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Complaint to the European Ombudsman

Accessing the European Ombudsman: how does it work?

The right to address the European Ombudsman, created by the Maastricht Treaty (Treaty on European Union), is one of the main rights conferred by European citizenship.

Anyone living in an EU country, whether as a European citizen or as a resident, or any legal entity having its registered office in an EU country, may complain about an act of "maladministration" by an EU institution or body, with the exception of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance.

Such an act could be:

  • an administrative irregularity, unfairness or discrimination;
  • an abuse of power;
  • a lack or refusal of information;
  • an unnecessary delay.

The right to complain is enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The European Ombudsman cannot deal with complaints related to national, regional or local administrations.

Equally, he cannot look into matters that are before a court or that have been settled by a court.

Unlike in the case of petitioning the European Parliament, the citizen does not have to be personally affected by the issue to complain to the European Ombudsman.

However, the complaint must be made within two years of the citizen having discovered the relevant facts and he/she must have had contact with the institution concerned.

Complaints can be sent by mail or e-mail. An electronic complaints form is also available online. The complaint can be sent directly to the Ombudsman or through a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

The complainant must identify himself/herself and state the subject of the complaint. However, he/she may request that his/her complaint remain confidential.

If the European Ombudsman, upon his own initiative or following a complaint, considers it justifiable to clarify a suspected case of maladministration, he:

  • refers the matter to the institution concerned;
  • conducts an investigation;
  • seeks a solution to redress the problem;
  • if necessary, drafts recommendations that the institution concerned is required to reply to in detail within three months.

Emily O'Reilly was elected as the European Ombudsman in July 2013 and took office on 1 October 2013. She was re-elected in December 2014 for a five year mandate The European Ombudsman is appointed by the European Parliament to which she reports annually. The Ombudsman's activities also derive from a decision of the European Parliament.