The ‘Ombudsman’ has “less influence” and is under “threat of disappearance”

In an international conference taking place in Barcelona of Ombudsmen from Europe, America and Africa, the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, has warned that the institution has “less influence”. Furthermore, in some areas of Europe there is a threat that they will “disappear”. The Ombudsmen have been discussing their role in the face of the privatisation of basic services. The conference has been organised with the ‘Cercle d’Economia’, which is mainly an economic forum, open to businesspeople, academics and economic professionals.

CNA / Esther Romagosa

November 21, 2011 09:22 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The European branch of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI-Europe) has organised a conference in Barcelona with representatives from Europe, America and Africa. On Monday and Tuesday, they will debate the role of the Ombudsman defending consumer rights and they will share good practices, which should be the norm with the private provision of public services. That is an area in which Catalonia can act as a model. The Catalan Ombudsman (called in Catalan ‘Síndic de Greuges’), Rafael Ribó, who is also the Chairman of IOI-Europe, warned of the “loss of influence” of Ombudsmen in Europe. Ribó warned that some “consolidated democracies” in Europe are eliminating this institution, “with the excuse of a supposed budget saving”. He noted the Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha as well as Italy and Slovenia. “Institutions are being merged”, which brings “a loss of influence”, denounced Ribó. It is precisely because of this, according to the Chairmain of the IOI-Europe, that the Council of Europe recently ordered the preparation of a report entitled ‘Strengthening the Institution of Ombudsman in Europe’. The Barcelona conference has been organised by IOI-Europe together with the ‘Cercle d’Economia’, a Catalan economic forum, open to businesspeople, academics and economic professionals.

Ombudsmen from Europe, America and Africa gathered together in Barcelona to discuss their role defending the citizen and consumer rights in private-managed basic services, such as the water supply or telecommunications. They will also share good practices, an area in which Catalonia can show its own experience. Since 2006, the Catalan Ombudsman has assumed this task, in addition to the traditional role of defending the citizen when up against the public administration. Rafael Ribó stressed that the Catalan experience “has been very positive”. The institution has reached agreements with private companies providing general interest services, in the sectors of telecommunications, electricity, gas, water, and, recently, the Catalan Ombudsman also started to cooperate with transport companies. According to Ribó, their relationship has been “excellent” up until now, and is more “fluid, faster and positive” than with the public sector.

According to Ribó, the conference should explore how to pass the rules used within the public sector to the private sector. However, the conference should also help the public sector to identify the elements that can enable the transfer of “the good acceptance” and effectiveness of the private sector “when it comes to following the resolutions of the Ombudsman”.

The Catalan President Artur Mas participated in the inaugural session, but had to leave early to be with his party and analyse the results of the Spanish elections, held on Sunday. Nevertheless, Mas wanted to honour the Ombudsmen and its representatives who came to Barcelona. After apologising for having to leave, Mas joked about the good results his party obtained in the elections. The President of the Catalan Government said “we are both happy and very busy”. Ribó and Mas were joined by the Chairman of the Cercle d’Economia, the President of the Catalan airline Vueling, Josep Piqué, who is also a former Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister.