EU watchdog head warns bloc over lapses in standards

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Budapest (AFP)

The European Union's ombudsman has voiced "frustration" to AFP that high-profile lapses in standards by the bloc's institutions in recent years provide "ammunition" for eurosceptics to attack the EU.

"The EU generally has very high standards but a lot of people out there are willing to attack it externally and internally," ombudsman Emily O'Reilly told AFP in Budapest Tuesday.

"So it is a shame for the EU then to give ammunition to the populists," she said in an interview.

The EU ombudsman is an independent and impartial body that holds the EU?s institutions and agencies to account, and promotes good administration.

Last year a rushed and murky procedure saw Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's chief of staff Martin Selmayr promoted to top civil servant of the EU's 30,000-strong executive.

The Commission later rejected the conclusion of the ombudsman's probe that EU rules on transparency in hiring processes had been broken.

In another sensitive case, Jose Manuel Barroso, commission president between 2004 and 2014, accepted a job with the Goldman Sachs bank, a firm widely blamed for its role in the 2008 global crash and eurozone debt crisis.

In 2016, an EU ethics panel cleared Barroso of breaching bloc rules on lobbying.

"There is a frustration that there isn't a recognition of the links between poor behaviour on the one hand and allowing populists to unfairly criticise the EU on the other," O'Reilly told AFP.

"The Selmayr and Barroso cases received media coverage all over the world, "and particularly in media and in member states and other countries that are hostile to the EU itself and that is a pity," she said.

Almost all of her office's recommendations have been accepted by the EU institutions, said O'Reilly, but "the high profile ones are the ones that can do the most damage...by getting eurosceptic attention".

The Irishwoman's second mandate as ombudsman ends after the European Parliament elections later this month, but her office told AFP that she plans to run for a third term.

Earlier, O'Reilly, first elected as ombudsman in 2013, delivered a speech at the Central European University where she called for more transparency in Brussels corridors of power.

"It is hard for the EU to criticise member states for ethical breaches if it doesn't adopt the highest standards itself," she told the audience.