The origins and development of the ombudsman institution are outlined and the significance of the ombudsman is addressed from the perspective of two parameters, democracy and rule of law, that form and shape both the context in which the institution functions and its ability to serve citizens effectively. The contribution of the ombudsman institution to the quality of democracy is examined, primarily by way of a comparison between ombudsmen and courts, which allows for an explanation of the distinctive contribution of the former in terms of norms and procedures. The ombudsman institution both reflects, and contributes to the maintenance and improvement of the quality of an evolving constitutional order that embodies pluralist democracy and the rule of law as fundamental principles. An assessment is made of the of the contribution of the ombudsman institution to the quality of democracy through its offering citizens a choice of remedy, as an alternative to the courts. Although the ombudsman offers certain advantages, courts are the bedrock of the rule of law and in the absence of a well-functioning judicial system, the scope for the ombudsman institution to help improve the quality of democracy is very greatly diminished. An ombudsman’s work with complaints not only empowers citizens and strengthens democracy, but also widens access to justice and so helps reinforce the rule of law. The ombudsman institution thus reflects, as well as helps maintain, the quality of constitutional order that embodies pluralist democracy and the rule of law as fundamental principles.
Professor P. Nikiforos Diamandouros has served as European Ombudsman since April 2003. He was elected to this position by the European Parliament in 2003 and subsequently re-elected in 2005 and 2010. From 1998 to 2003, he was the first National Ombudsman of Greece. He is Emeritus Professor of comparative politics at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the University of Athens. From 1995 to 1998 he served as Director and Chairman of the Greek National Centre for Social Research (EKKE). He received his B.A. degree from Indiana University (1963) and his M.A. (1965), M.Phil. (1969) and Ph.D. (1972) degrees from Columbia University. He has written extensively on (a) the politics and history of Greece, Southern Europe and Southeastern Europe and, more specifically, on democratization, state and nation-building, and the relationship between culture and politics, and (b) the relationship between rule of law, democracy and the ombudsman in European legal order.