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Ombudsman Renate Weber says official title of Romania's citizens' rights guarding institution is misleading

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Renate Weber

Romania's Ombudsman Renate Weber argues that the official title of the institution she is heading - the People's Advocate - is "pompous" and "ill-advised", because it may mislead the public opinion about what the Ombudsman can and should do.

"I couldn't tell you why we have chosen this title because by tradition, the institution is indeed called Ombudsman. (...) It seems that we took inspiration from Spain, where it is called Defensor del Pueblo. (...) I can tell you a story from my personal experience as a lawyer during the communist period and back then one didn't much refer to this category as 'lawyers', you were called 'defender' and this was a kind of lawyer avenging after 1990 - we are no longer defenders, we are lawyers, but this is a far cry from the formula of 'People's Advocate' set forth in the Constitution. (...) Just like elsewhere, the institution preserves this essential trait of serving as a defender of individual rights in the relations between individuals and public authorities, yet not all authorities, because some are categorically excluded," Weber said.

"You've heard a lot about how politicized the institution is, about what political appointments mean, now there is this tendency of reflecting on another title. What we know for sure is that in Romania, the People's Advocate is appointed by Parliament for a 5-year term. If you ask me, for the institution to be truly independent there should be just one term, because in my opinion it's better to appoint the People's Advocate for one term without the possibility to remove him from office, than have him serve the maximum allowed period of two terms, but keep all the time at hand the possibility to remove him from office. My opinion is that this renders him vulnerable. Obviously, it always depends on the person, but as long as the possibility of removal exists, there is also the risk that the person in office does not act as independently as they would be expected to," explained Renate Weber.

"Unlike his counterparts from other countries, the People's Advocate has certain competences that are his alone. The first is to directly refer to the Constitutional Court constitutional challenges to laws and ordinances; on this point, whatever you would do, the two sides involved will have a different perception. That's why I'm telling you this is politicized. (...) The biggest issue is that with notifying the Constitutional Court, a competence that is not to be found in other countries. If I were to decide, I would relinquish this competence tomorrow, especially since a referendum that was validated by 6 million people has determined that other structures, institutions of the state, should also have this competence. I am looking forward to the constitutional change in this regard, but honestly, I don't think that I'll get to see it in my lifetime," Weber said.

Renate Weber participated in the conference "Why Organizational Ombudsman" organized by the Association of the Board of Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution - CASAL, in partnership with OMV Petrom and the Chamber of Deputies' Law, Discipline and Immunities Committee.

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