Ombudsman prompts EC U-turn

British law firms have claimed the first successful use of the European Ombudsman in a complaint against the European Commission.

A complaint lodged by the Legal Services Group (LSG), an alliance of five regional UK law firms with a joint office in Brussels, was the first the newly-appointed European Ombudsman Jacob Soderman ruled admissible, his annual report reveals.

He did not have to rule on the case, however, because the EC agreed to settle in full when it realised that the ombudsman was being brought in.

LSG was acting for Forum Europe, a British-owned, Brussels-based conference company. The EC had asked it to organise a conference and then cancelled it at the last minute, refusing to compensate Forum Europe for its losses.

Michael Renouf, head of the LSG, said the EC paid out “tens of thousands of pounds” in compensation and, unusually, agreed to pay LSG's legal fees.

The ombudsman's first annual report also shows Britons were the biggest complainers in Europe last year. Of the 86 complaints ruled admissible by the end of March, 42 originated in the UK and 19 in Belgium.

Renouf said he thought the British complained more to start with. He said Britons were the most frequent complainants to the EC about the UK Government breaching European environmental rules. “They've also complained to the ombudsman about the commission not taking up these complaints,” he added.

He said the ombudsman was proving useful for companies and individuals trying to solve problems involving EU law.