The Ombudsman institution in Europe and in Germany

In European countries, various mechanisms exist for citizens to address grievances when the law falls short. Here’s an overview of similar mechanisms in several key European countries: 

France 

Defender of Rights (Défenseur des droits): 

  • An independent authority that assists individuals in addressing grievances related to public administration, discrimination, children's rights, and security ethics. 

Constitutional Council (Conseil constitutionnel): 

  • Individuals can challenge the constitutionality of laws through the priority preliminary ruling on the issue of constitutionality (QPC). 

Administrative Courts (Tribunaux administratifs): 

  • Citizens can challenge administrative decisions, with the Council of State (Conseil d'État) as the highest administrative court. 

Petitions to Parliament: 

  • Citizens can submit petitions to the National Assembly or the Senate. 

Spain 

Defender of the People (Defensor del Pueblo): 

  • An ombudsman institution that addresses complaints against public authorities and investigates issues of maladministration. 

Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional): 

  • Citizens can file amparo appeals for protection of constitutional rights. 

Administrative Courts (Juzgados de lo Contencioso-Administrativo): 

  • Handle complaints against public administration actions. 

Petitions to Parliament: 

  • Citizens can submit petitions to the Congress of Deputies or the Senate. 

Italy 

Ombudsman (Difensore Civico): 

  • Regional ombudsmen address complaints against public administration. There is no national ombudsman, but regional ones handle local issues. 

Constitutional Court (Corte Costituzionale): 

  • Individuals can challenge laws violating constitutional rights through incidental questions. 

Administrative Courts (Tribunali Amministrativi Regionali - TAR): 

  • Handle disputes involving public administration. 

Petitions to Parliament: 

  • Citizens can submit petitions to the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate. 

Netherlands 

National Ombudsman (Nationale Ombudsman): 

  • Addresses complaints about improper conduct by government agencies and officials. 

Council of State (Raad van State): 

  • Highest administrative court for challenging government decisions. 

Constitutional Review: 

  • While the Netherlands lacks a constitutional court, laws are reviewed for compatibility with international treaties, including human rights treaties. 

Petitions to Parliament: 

  • Citizens can submit petitions to the House of Representatives or the Senate. 

Belgium 

Federal Ombudsman (Médiateur fédéral / Federale Ombudsman): 

  • Addresses complaints against federal administrative authorities. 

Constitutional Court (Cour constitutionnelle / Grondwettelijk Hof): 

  • Citizens can challenge laws violating constitutional rights. 

Administrative Courts (Conseil d'État / Raad van State): 

  • Handle complaints against administrative decisions. 

Petitions to Parliament: 

  • Citizens can submit petitions to the Chamber of Representatives or the Senate. 

Sweden 

Parliamentary Ombudsman (Justitieombudsmannen): 

  • Investigates complaints against public authorities. 

Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern): 

  • Handles complaints and supervises legality and public sector accountability. 

Administrative Courts (Förvaltningsrätt): 

  • Handle disputes involving public administration. 

Petitions to Parliament: 

  • Citizens can submit petitions to the Riksdag. 

Austria 

Austrian Ombudsman Board (Volksanwaltschaft): 

  • Independent body addressing complaints about maladministration. 

Constitutional Court (Verfassungsgerichtshof): 

  • Handles complaints alleging violations of constitutional rights. 

Administrative Courts (Verwaltungsgerichte): 

  • Handle disputes involving public administration. 

Petitions to Parliament: 

  • Citizens can submit petitions to the National Council or the Federal Council. 

Greece 

Greek Ombudsman (Συνήγορος του Πολίτη): 

  • Addresses complaints against public administration, including issues of discrimination and rights violations. 

Council of State (Συμβούλιο της Επικρατείας): 

  • Highest administrative court for challenging government decisions. 

Hellenic Data Protection Authority: 

  • Addresses complaints related to data protection and privacy. 

Petitions to Parliament: 

  • Citizens can submit petitions to the Hellenic Parliament. 

These countries offer a variety of mechanisms to ensure citizens can seek redress for grievances, including independent ombudsman institutions, constitutional and administrative courts, and the ability to petition parliament. 

 

Germany 

Germany does not have a traditional national Ombudsman in the same way many other countries do. Like an Independent institution for cases where law falls short. Instead, Germany has several specialized ombudsman-like institutions and mechanisms for various sectors and specific issues, such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces and the Petitions Committee of the Bundestag, which handle specific types of complaints. 

In many civil law countries, including Germany, the judicial system itself is often seen as the primary mechanism for resolving disputes, even those that fall through the cracks of standard legal processes. This reliance on the judiciary contrasts with the approach in countries that have a more generalized Ombudsman to address a wide range of public grievances. 

Here are a few mechanisms in Germany that somewhat parallel the role of an Ombudsman: 

  1. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces (Wehrbeauftragter): This office acts as an advocate for soldiers' rights within the Bundeswehr, addressing complaints related to military service. 
  1. Petitions Committee of the Bundestag: This committee receives petitions from citizens and can initiate investigations into complaints regarding public administration. 
  1. Data Protection Authorities: These exist at both federal and state levels to address issues related to data privacy and protection. 
  1. Various Industry-Specific Ombudsmen: There are sector-specific ombudsman services for areas like insurance, banking, and telecommunications. 

While these mechanisms do not constitute a single, unified Ombudsman institution, they serve similar functions in addressing specific types of complaints and issues within their respective domains. In Germany, citizens who feel they are not getting justice due to gaps in the law have several avenues to pursue their grievances, despite the absence of a traditional Ombudsman institution. Here are the primary mechanisms available: 

  1. Constitutional Complaints (Verfassungsbeschwerde): 
  • Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht): Individuals can file a constitutional complaint directly to this court if they believe their constitutional rights have been violated by public authorities, including legislative gaps. 
  1. Petitions to the Bundestag (Parliament): 
  • Petitions Committee: Citizens can submit petitions to this committee, which can investigate and address complaints related to public administration and legislative issues. 
  1. Administrative Courts (Verwaltungsgerichte): 
  • Individuals can challenge administrative decisions or actions in administrative courts, which can review the legality of public administration actions and address issues arising from legal gaps. 
  1. Sector-Specific Ombudsman Services: 
  • Various sectors have their own ombudsman services, such as for banking, insurance, and telecommunications, which handle specific types of complaints within those industries. 
  1. Legal Aid and Advocacy Groups: 
  • Organizations like the German Bar Association (Deutscher Anwaltverein) and various non-governmental organizations offer legal aid and advocacy for individuals facing injustices due to gaps in the law. 
  1. Data Protection Authorities: 
  • Citizens can lodge complaints with federal or state data protection authorities if their issues relate to privacy and data protection laws. 
  1. European Court of Human Rights (ECHR): 
  • As a member of the Council of Europe, Germany is subject to the jurisdiction of the ECHR. Citizens can bring cases to this court if they believe their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights have been violated. 

 

Practically speaking, Germany indirectly excludes such complaints due to its intense bureaucracy. From personal experience, there is also a notable lack of support from the legal community.