Strong – Enough!

tin plate toy small Back in 2011 motorcyclist Jon Strong submitted a series of complaints to the European Ombudsman.

These complaints consisted of allegations that the European Commission failed properly to reply to his correspondence.

The on-going and at times, arrogant correspondence to the Commission, contested the quality of a survey that it had conducted (it was only available in English) before the Commission made a legislative proposal about Road Worthiness Testing) in the area of road safety. He also requested access to a number of Commission documents in support of that proposal.

When the Commission failed to reply to Mr Strong’s lengthy criticisms and failed to provide him with the requested documents, the Commission representative (Isabelle Kardacz) stated that she would stop all exchange of correspondence. Mr Strong then turned to the Ombudsman to complain.

In this particular case, the Commission had evoked the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, which allows stopping correspondence if this can reasonably be regarded as improper, for example, because it is repetitive, abusive and/or pointless.

The Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE) decided to discontinue correspondence with the complainant (wrongly, it later transpired).

List of Allegations and Complaints

The list of allegations and complaints were as follows:

DG MOVE (Commission) failed properly to deal with the complainant’s request for access to documents relating to:

(a) the “Periodic Technical Inspections” (the ‘PTI survey’); Mr Strong argued that the Commission failed properly to draft the PTI survey questionnaire. In his view, DG MOVE failed properly to conduct research to draft legislation which had an important impact on citizens. He also considered that conducting a survey in English only did not respect the right of every person to be heard.

(b) the impact assessment on “Type Approval” conducted by the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry; Strong alleged the impact assessment contained distorted findings, which resulted in a legislative measure which is disproportionate when compared with the causes of accidents it would, allegedly, avoid.

(c) the budget allocated by the Commission to “Road Safety”; Mr Strong argued that DG MOVE failed to demonstrate that it was spending funds wisely and that it was directing them to areas where they would have a maximum effect. The absence of a strategic plan, showing the relationship between the investment in the motorcycle safety programmes and the expected outcomes in terms of projected lives saved, represented, in his view, a complete and utter failure to comply with the principle of sound financial management………..

(d) the “SAFERIDER” programme. The “SAFERIDER” projects aim & objectives were to study the potential of advanced rider assistance systems and on-bike information systems, in short electronic systems for navigation & route guidance  – navigation & route guidance – speed alert – curve warnings – frontal collision warning – improve safety on intersections – lane change support etc. Riders were represented actively in the project by the Federation of European Motorcyclists Associations (FEMA). Mr Strong noted that the SAFERIDER project aimed at studying devices with the potential of making PTW riding safer. According to Mr Strong, DG MOVE expected some warning devices to be fitted onto new motorcycles within two years. Press releases reported that the Commission had stated that such systems would be introduced through legislation as a last resort if manufacturers did not adopt them voluntarily. The complainant thus concluded that the SAFERIDER project team was under considerable political pressure to deliver technology regardless of its ability to save lives.

Omdudsman Replies

Periodic Technical Inspections “the ‘PTI survey’ – The Ombudsman found that the Commission was wrong to have conducted the survey in question in English only. This situation resulted in the overall number of replies being necessarily limited. The Ombudsman encouraged the Commission to acknowledge in the present case that it would have been better not to have confined the survey to the English language and to consider whether there are any lessons to be drawn for the future.

We have reported extensively on the Road Worthiness Test proposal since 2010 including the numerous European demos by motorcyclists – debates – public hearings – in committee and Parliament – including the recent European Plenary session vote at the Parliament in Strasbourg which voted on (for now) the inclusion of motorcycles – Click Here

The impact assessment on “Type Approval” – The Commission assured the Ombudsman that it had followed a strict and rigorous procedure to guarantee the quality of the impact assessment. A separate Impact Assessment Board, consisting of senior high-level Commission staff, reviewed the final report, in accordance with the applicable procedure. Then, an Impact Assessment Steering Group of the Commission provided additional guidance. The resulting detailed analysis on preferred policy options was then used as basis for the Commission to draft its Proposal for an Approval and Market Regulation. The Commission emphasised that, while conducting the public consultation, carrying out the impact assessment and drafting the actual proposal, it was also regularly discussing the issues and possible policy measures in the Motorcycle Working Group. Indeed, it did so for more than seven years

The Ombudsman commented, “”The Commission’s opinion provides a complete and easily understood account of the steps it has undertaken before submitting its proposals to EP (European Parliament and Council scrutiny.

The Ombudsman also noted that Mr Strong has strong views on the legislative proposals as such (Type Approval & Road Worthiness Testing) and he considers that the policy options underlying the Commission’s are inconsistent with the available data relating to the causes of accidents involving PTWs which in his opinion the proposals are ineffective for minimising those causes, and adopting any such legislation would amount to preferring the interests of the industry over the interests of the road users, in particular PTWs, at large. The Ombudsman noted that this is an opinion shared by a significant number of motorcyclists who have contacted the Ombudsman and expressed their strong support for the complaint.

However the Ombudsman concluded that, “It will not inquire into the substantive merits of legislation or of legislative proposals that are before the European Parliament. He invites the complainant to consider submitting a petition on this matter to the European Parliament.”

In December 2012 the representatives of the EU member states, adopted the regulation laying down new safety and environmental requirements for the type-approval of motorcycles and other L-category motor vehicles – the so-called “anti-tampering” regulation. So any “fight” against this legislation would be retrospective and against the combined weight of the democratic process of the European Union.

We reported extensively on the regulation proposal – Click Here

The budget allocated by the Commission to “Road Safety” – With regards to Road Safety, the Commission explained that the budget allocated to it at the time of its opinion was about EUR one million per year. This budget is used in line with the objectives identified in the Policy Orientations on Road Safety.

The Ombudsman said, “While the Ombudsman acknowledges that the complainant is correct to point, essentially, to the need for the use of funds from the EU budget to be as effective and efficient as possible, it emerges clearly from the complainant’s submissions that what he contests is the Commission’s policy choices…….” “The Ombudsman’s role is not to substitute his judgment for that of the Commission. The Ombudsman’s inquiries into this aspect of the case have revealed neither a procedural error, nor a manifest error of appraisal. The Ombudsman underlines once again, however, that the complainant could contest the Commission’s policies through a petition to the European Parliament.”

SAFE RIDER – The Commission clarified that the results of these kinds of studies do not necessarily lead to legal requirements to equip motorcycles with any of the products that have been investigated. Any legal requirement will have to follow the applicable procedures, as explained previously in respect of the procedures applicable to Commission’s legislative proposals.

The Ombudsman concluded, “In sum, the complainant doubts the effectiveness of warning devices, such as vibrating saddles, handlebar grips, cheek pads and head up displays, to be fitted onto motorcycles and helmets, as that project advises. ……, “The Ombudsman’s role is not to substitute his judgment for that of the Commission. The Ombudsman’s inquiries into this aspect of the case have revealed neither a procedural error, nor a manifest error of appraisal. The Ombudsman underlines once again, however, that the complainant could contest the Commission’s policies through a petition to the European Parliament.”

The SAFERIDER project finished in 2010, we reported extensively on the SAFERIDER project – Click Here

To Summarize

Apart from the Ombudsman inviting Mr Strong to take his issues to the European Parliament through petitions what really has been achieved?

Mr Strong has already Petitioned Parliament. In 2012, supported by the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG UK) contacting “every MEP”, Mr Strong petitioned the Committee on Petitions requesting a postponement of IMCO (Internal Market and Consumer Protection) and EU Parliament Plenary votes on the Regulation for Powered Two Wheeler Type Approval and Market Surveillance (Type Approval Regulation for motorcycles) until the EU Ombudsman has published his decision on the complaint covering the proposed regulation.

Mr Strong pointed out he was waiting to hear from the Ombudsman to decide on maladministration by EU institutions, whether there has been maladministration in the process by which the draft legislative act covering Type Approval and proposed by the European Commission was drafted and consequently as to the legality of that act.

Although Mr Strong pointed out the urgency of his requests, the vote in the IMCO and EU Parliament has already taken place, so in essence, nothing had been achieved!

What the Ombudsman concludes in his decision was that, “It also became apparent that what the complainant ultimately sought was a change in legislation affecting him as a motorcyclist.”

Finally, the Ombudsman noted that during the inquiry, the Commission had assured him that it was prepared to submit the complainant’s views to its expert groups working on the relevant legislative proposals. The Ombudsman therefore invited the Commission to confirm to him that it had indeed followed up those assurances and had forwarded the complainant’s views on those proposals to its expert groups.

With the actions listed above, the Ombudsman closed the case with the following conclusion:

No further inquiries are justified.

Our Conclusion

It must be remembered that Mr Strong did not confine his interpretation of these issues solely to the European Commission and the Ombudsman. As mentioned he has already approached the Petition Committee of the European Parliament and also numerous MEPs, Commissioners and rider organisations.

Last year we had short conversations with Mr Strong during the IFZ Conference – FEMA Forum in Germany and while he had no doubt in his own mind of how legislation and other issues would affect him as a motorcyclist, we did not agree with him then (and now) and certainly not in his approach which included reference to his personal life and upbringing.

Although he had been praised in the past by a UK rider’s organisation, at their annual group conference, for his continual determination and analytical skills in his complaint to the European Ombudsman, there is a borderline between sanity and rational discourse and rhetorical diatribe.

In our view, having read the river of correspondence with references to his grandmother, his riding skills, Magna Carta 1297, the American war of Independence, the Boer War, the Second World War, his motorcycle collisions and a Jewish solicitor who defended victims of Nazism (when writing to the German President of the European Parliament), we can’t help but wonder – where did he come from?

More to the point, why would the motorcycling community even consider this person as a representative of our rights?

So maybe it is a case of Strong – Enough! 

Decision of the European Ombudsman

Summary of the decision on complaint 875/2011/JF against the European Commission – Click Here

The Commission’s handling of the complainant’s correspondence about safety policies for ‘Powered Two-Wheelers’ (‘PTW’) – Click Here

Decision of the European Ombudsman closing his inquiry into complaint 875/2011/JF against the European Commission – Click Here

Share Button

Comments Will No Longer Be Posted

  1. For the full list of documents from the Ombudsman regarding Jon Strong complaints – Click Here

  2. The previous comment by Major Dennis Bloodnok was written a while back in response to Jon’s “lobbying” to the Ombudsman and other officials.

    It has been in our possession until now but kept under lock and key. In our opinion it reflects the fruitlessness of Jon’s approach to the Ombudsman and the European Parliament committees and it does cut to the quick in places.

    Jon, as you have said, “I do not choose to attack you.” This is not a personal attack on you, (we have, as I pointed out, met although briefly) but it is an attack on your methods and approach!

    As you have said we disagree on methods and we thank you for your well wishes but we will have to, I suspect, agree to disagree with a large amount of disagreement on this!

    If there is any reports from the riders’ organisations on the outcome of the Ombudsmans decision we will of course report on them here, as we air all sides of the issues as best we can.

  3. Major Dennis Bloodnok says:

    Dear Mr Strong,

    Your missive to Martin Schulz President of the European Parliament and copied to numerous Members of Parliament etc earlier this year was circulated to various offices within the European Union and landed on my desk. I wish to inform you that I in fact passed it around the office in order to share amongst my colleagues, the hilarity that your correspondence has provided me. I of course could not reply on behalf of President Schulz, but after I picked myself up off the floor having read the letter you have sent him, I felt a need to offer my humble opinion and thus respond to you.

    I had considered paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw in my response to you which is: I am sitting in the smallest room in my house with your latest letter in front of me, which will shortly be behind me, but then I concluded that I should at least attempt to write a response that equalled the pure unadulterated drivel that you have written not only to President Schulz but to the European Ombudsman over the last year or so.

    In the case of verbose scribble that you have sent to the EU Ombudsman, there were salient points you raised including the description of your grandmother’s educational attainments. This reminded me of mine, who was a one legged ballet dancer from Thessaloniki. She unfortunately had to cut her dancing career short (please forgive the pun).

    Your lengthy missives to both the European Ombudsman and to President Schulz has provided the European Union’s Civil Service with such delight that for example, in my own office we have enlarged your correspondence and wallpapered the rooms with it, in order to provide a source of mirth and laughter whenever we find that life is getting us down.

    We, (by we, I mean my colleagues and myself) are curious to understand whether you speak just for yourself, or whether you represent other personalities that may inhabit your mind, such as Napoleon, Von Rippentrop or perhaps the great Attila the Hun. The reason I ask is because in your correspondence you have nominated a number of personalities that you consider important in your presentation of issues that only a person of your dubious intellect could consider logic and worth presenting to another rational human being.

    Your interpretation of the Boston Matrix to suggest that democracy is failing in the European Union in your missive to President Schultz brings to mind another design which is the back cover of a record produced many years ago by the Goons comedy trio and is possibly a far better description of the European Union’s democratic processes than the one you hypothesize. Unfortunately I cannot reprint the cover here, but google it and you will see what I mean.

    The Master Spike Milligan spent many a year developing his character Count Jim Moriaty. If you are not aware of the complexity of Moriaty’s character, I can sum it up briefly (ref Wikepedia). “Moriarty is an impoverished member of the French aristocracy who has turned to crime to support his
    lifestyle.

    Despite having carried out many high-paying cons and robberies during the series, he and his criminal counterpart Hercules Grytpype-Thynne always appear to be permanently destitute. With his thick faux-French accent, he is often found scavenging in dustbins looking for food and uttering meaningless foreign-sounding curses like “Sapristi nabolas!”, “Sapristi nyuckoes!” or “Sapristi bombpetts!” as well as a distorted form of actual French exemplified by “Sacre Fred!” from “Lurgi Strikes Britain”.

    Moriarty travels closely with Grytpype-Thynne, often in the same suit or (in “The Jet Propelled Guided NAAFI”) by hiding in the lining of Grytpype’s underpants. In “The Call of the West”, Grytpype announces that Moriarty is travelling west by fish crate because of the devaluation of the franc.

    Over the years, Moriarty changed from a suave, debonair and efficient French criminal mastermind and confidence trickster into a cringing sidekick of Grytpype-Thynne, who is often disparaging of his manic behaviour, referring to him as “you steaming French nit,” “my fast disintegrating friend,” or “you crutty French schlapper.” Grytpype often introduces him (“and I quote from his death certificate”) with a middle name such as “Thighs”, “Knees”, “Kidney Wiper”, etc., along with an appropriate sound effect (e.g. rattling bones, swannee whistle) or Moriarty’s catch-phrase “Oooowwwwww”, and descriptions of his prowess in various fields (“who has played the male lead in over 50 postcards,”

    You may ask what relevance has this description of Spike Milligan’s character to your six page letter to President Schulz and the answer is simply none what so ever, but it is far more interesting and certainly more pertinent to the European parliamentary procedures than your jeramiad.

    In conclusion, I would like to focus on a couple of your accusations in relation to the then proposed Regulation: Approval and Market Surveillance of 2 or 3 Wheeled Vehicles and Quadricycles.

    You commented that IMCO’s version of the Article 18 text did not contain any reference to applying the article to specific classes of PTWs. You also commented that the full text of the Legislation was not yet available in all Official Languages of the EU and is only in a “Council edited” version in English” You then intimated that the vote was on Tuesday 20th November 2011 (sic).

    In the first instance, the date of the vote for the proposed regulations was on the Plenary agenda for 20th November 2012 – you were out a year. Secondly the documents for the proposed regulations were available in all official European languages and contained the final version a week prior to the vote in parliament (contrary to your accusation) here:

    http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=REPORT&reference=A7-2011-0445&language=EN#

    Finally, this page also contained the link to the final version of article 18 which clearly
    excluded L3e-A3 and L4e-A3 motorcycles from any anti-tampering measures – on pages 79 and 80. here:

    http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+AMD+A7-2011-0445+148-148+DOC+PDF+V0//EN

    Have a nice life.

    Sincerely

    From the office of
    Major Dennis Bloodnok
    7 Place du Luxembourg
    1050 Brussels
    Belgium

  4. Jon Strong says:

    Jon Strong – Replies

    Jon Strong uses his right to reply, which is open to anyone to comment on our website on any article.

    I do not choose to attack you. You have the right to come to your own conclusions and as my challenge to the Commission and to the Parliament was in the public domain I can’t expect that I am immune from criticism.

    I would however ask you to consider the meaning of arbitrary and how it relates to the standards of governance you and I have a right to expect as citizens.

    Arbitrary: Derived from mere opinion; capricious; unrestrained; despotic; (law) discretionary.
    OED

    My challenges were based on evidence from the Commission’s own work. They cited specific apparent breaches of treaty provisions. In terms of the Type Approval legislation the Commission admitted it hadn’t undertaken the work to collect the evidence for Anti-Tampering measures. On that point it further admitted that it knew how to get the evidence and had done so for similar provisions in the past. Protocol 2 Article 5 to the treaty appears to me to be written as a strict constraint on the limits of discretion that the Commission has. You will need your own legal advice on that point.

    The absence of evidence surely makes a legislative measure arbitrary when required by Treaty to present the evidence.

    In terms of Roadworthiness Testing I was so arrogant as to use my professional skills and an undergraduate research text book to demonstrate that the Survey would not meet the standards required for an undergraduate assessment. I also went so far as to calculate an estimated understatement in the costs of the measure that could be as much as €4.3 billion. Is it unreasonable to make the case that the evidence presented by the Commission may be at best subject to the charge of being so much in error as to render it worthless and thus any regulation based upon it as arbitrary? I believe the French senate found a conflict of interest.

    You and I are riders, we are highly vulnerable to injury if we are hit. We are not statistics. We are sensible rational human beings and the products of our upbringing and work and life experiences. We may come at the same problem from a different frame of reference. It is those experiences in our lives that frame the standards we expect of governments and law.

    I make no apology for references to concentration camps in the Boer War. It demonstrates that UK history is not blemish free. I make no apologies for referencing history. In my view should learn from it.

    I do observe, probably through minor omission, that you did not mention Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and Robert Schuman whom I also cited. The former referred to the Treaty of London as a mere scrap of paper. When legislative bodies breach the treaty provisions requiring evidence, presumably robust and not subject to manipulation, to support measures are they not treating the treaties that both bind and grant them the power to make laws as mere scraps of papers? Robert Schuman was one of the key architects of the EU and of NATO. He clearly meant that treaties be observed, to the point of the cost of lives if necessary.

    The legislative bodies of the EU have the power to set laws that can result in our being fined or worse for breach of the laws they enact. Are we as citizens not entitled to expect high standards of compliance with the requirements of the treaty laws that grant the power to write those laws and for the bodies concerned not to act in an arbitrary manner? I suppose I could vent my fury by throwing flour, eggs and tomatoes at buildings but committing criminal damage is not my style. I prefer to make my arguments through the democratic processes available. I have exercised some of the rights I have through those processes. Through using those processes you and I both learn something of their limits that can help us understand the acceptability of the government mechanisms we have. We have both learned that the Ombudsman will not adjudicate on some potential breaches of treaty if they are the subject of current legislative process. He has, as you say, referred me to the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions on several points. Obviously my challenge wasn’t strong enough and with the right body.

    Though we disagree on methods I wish you well in your contribution to the fight for all our rights.

    Best regards

    Jon Strong

Speak Your Mind