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The Spanish People's Defenders: A Model for Establishing the Ombudsman Institution in Bulgaria
The Spanish experience in establishing the ombudsman institution is one of the most appropriate models in view of the Bulgarian political, legal and cultural environment. By initiating the introduction of an ombudsman institution on national and local level in Bulgaria and during the whole process of researching the existing foreign models and drafting the legal framework for Bulgaria the CSD legal experts followed the Spanish experience. The Spanish People’s Defender has provided significant support to the CSD law drafting task force.

In order to further develop the already established contacts and cooperation and with regard to the forthcoming introduction of a national ombudsman institution in Bulgaria CSD senior staff representatives attended two very useful working meetings in April, 2003, in Spain.

On April 25, 2003, the CSD representatives met with Mr. Anton Canellas i Balcells, People’s Defender of Catalonia (Sindic de Greuges de Catalunya), the Deputy Ombudsman Mr. Enric R. Bartlett i Castella, the Deputy Ombudsman on Children Issues Mr. Jordi Cots i Moner, the Secretary General Ms. Elisabeth Abella i Roca and other senior officials.

During the meeting Mr. Canellas described his personal and institutional experience in developing the ombudsman institution in Catalonia and presented the structure and the main competences of the institution. The Sindic de Greuges is an institution regulated by the Constitution of Catalonia (Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy) and the special Law on Sindic de Grueges de Catalunya. The institution consists of an ombudsman, a deputy ombudsman, a deputy ombudsman on children issues, and a secretary general and is supported by a staff of 35 persons – trusted persons, lawyers, advisors and experts.

Some of the legislative decisions implemented in Catalonia are very important in terms of the future establishment of the ombudsman institution in Bulgaria, e.g. the qualified majority (three-fifth) for election and dismissal of the Sindic by the Parliament and its mandate (five years), the opportunity for legal entities (together with individual persons) to approach the Sindic; the criminal liability provided for refusing to convey reports, documents or files requested by the Sindic, etc.

The Spanish Institutional Program presented in the course of the discussions is of particular interest to Bulgaria since it is focused on cooperation between Spanish institutions and legal institutions from the Balkan countries. The program, implemented jointly by the Ombudsman of Spain, the Madrid Bar Association and the Ombudsman of Catalonia with the financial support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation, is based on a collaboration signed by the three institutions in Madrid on June 10, 1998. Up to now the program has supported joint activities and projects with representatives of newly established ombudsman institutions or institutions in process of establishment from several Balkan countries (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia).

Mr. Canellas presented the recent joint activities and projects of the institution with representatives of newly established ombudsman institutions or institutions in process of establishment from some Balkan countries (study visits of a parliamentary delegation from the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Montenegro, a delegation of judges and prosecutors from Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro in Barcelona and Madrid, seminar on the Spanish experience, co-organized with the Yugoslav Bar Association, round table co-organized with the Montenegro Bar Association, etc.). He expressed his support to the CSD efforts in this area and his willingness to provide assistance for the future introduction of the ombudsman institution in Bulgaria.

During the meeting the Deputy Ombudsman Mr. Enric R. Bartlett I Castella, the Deputy Ombudsman on Children Issues Mr. Jordi Cots I Moner, the Secretary General Ms. Elisabeth Abella I Roca and other members of the team made presentations on various aspects of the activities of the Ombudsman office. They put special accent on the cooperation with other institutions working in similar fields and law enforcement agencies. Some very important aspects of the Ombudsman’s activities were underlined: the personal contacts of the Ombudsmen with citizens, meetings in smaller cities, schools, etc. The presentation of the activities of the Deputy Ombudsman on Children Issues provoked particular interest. In Spain such specialized deputy ombudsman exists only in Catalonia. The Deputy Ombudsman on Children Issues deals primarily with the protection of children’s rights and operates ex officio or through mediation.

On April 28, 2003, CSD representatives had a meeting with the Spanish People’s Defender (Defensor del Pueblo) Mr. Enrique Mugica Herzog, and Ms. Maria del Mar Espana Marti, Secretary General. Among the issues discussed during the meeting were the main advantages of the ombudsman institution and the role it could play for timely and efficiently solving cases of human rights violations and ensuring greater transparency in the work of public administration.

The organizational chart of the Ombudsman’s office includes the Ombudsman, two Deputies, and a Secretary General. Each Deputy Ombudsman is responsible for four departments as follows: the First Deputy is responsible for Defense and Home Affairs, Justice and Domestic Violence, Economic Administration, and Immigration and Foreign Affairs, and the Second Deputy is responsible for Public Functioning and Employment, Territorial Ordination, Health and Social Policy, Education and Culture. The Secretary General is responsible for Computing, Internal Regime and Registrar, Studies and Documentation, Economic Regime. The Press Office and the Technical Office are directly subordinate to the Ombudsman.

Opportunities for cooperation with the Public Defender of Spain and the Public Defender of Catalonia were discussed. As a result of these discussions both the Public Defender of Spain and the Public Defender of Catalonia expressed their support to the introduction of the ombudsman institution in Bulgaria and to CSD’s efforts in this area and stated that they are open to participating in joint projects for achieving this objective.

The representatives of the offices of the Spanish People’s Defender and the People’s Defender of Catalonia agreed on conducting a series of working meetings between the People’s Defenders and officials from their staff and the members of the Bulgarian delegation who will visit Spain on June 21-28, 2003. The delegation will include MP’s, government representatives and experts involved in the process of establishing the ombudsman institution in Bulgaria.
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