The European Network of Ombudsmen was established in 1996. It connects the European Ombudsman, national and regional ombudsmen with the aim of ensuring complainants can get help at the appropriate level. The ENO helps to share information about EU law and its impact in EU Member States. It facilitates cooperation between ombudsmen, with a view to safeguarding the rights of EU citizens and individuals under EU law.
The ombudsmen in the Network are independent and impartial persons, established by constitution or law, who deal with complaints against public authorities.
They try to achieve an appropriate outcome for each complaint. Having investigated a complaint and found it to be justified, an ombudsman may criticize what has taken place and state how, in his or her opinion, the case should have been properly handled. In many countries, the ombudsman may also propose remedies, which may include, for example, reviewing a decision, giving an apology, or providing financial compensation. Some ombudsmen may try to achieve a friendly solution to a complaint.
In some cases, the complainant may have the choice between going to an ombudsman or to a court. Normally, however, an ombudsman cannot deal with a complaint if a court is dealing or has dealt with the matter. Unlike a court, an ombudsman does not make legally binding decisions, but the public authorities usually follow the ombudsman’s recommendations. If they do not, the ombudsman can, for example by notifying Parliament, draw political and public attention to the case.
As well as responding to complaints, ombudsmen also work proactively to raise the quality of public administration and public services. They encourage good administration and respect for rights, suggest appropriate solutions to systemic problems, spread best practice and promote a culture of service-mindedness.
Ombudsmen encourage public authorities to regard complaints as an opportunity to communicate effectively with the complainant and to put right any deficiencies in their service. Correspondingly, most ombudsmen do not investigate a complaint unless the body complained against has first been given a reasonable opportunity to deal with the matter itself.
The precise grounds on which an ombudsman can act vary within the Network, but normally include: violation of rights, including human and fundamental rights; other unlawful behaviour, including failure to respect general principles of law; and failure to act in accordance with principles of good administration. Examples of maladministration that an ombudsman can help correct include unreasonable delay, failure to follow established policy or procedures, lack of impartiality, unfairness, giving inaccurate information or advice, inconsistency, and discourtesy.