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Decision of the European Ombudsman on complaint 1442/2005/BU against the European Commission

Available languages: en
  • Case: 1442/2005/BU
    Opened on 13 May 2005 - Decision on 14 Dec 2007
  • Institution(s) concerned: European Commission
  • Field(s) of law: Science, information, education and culture
  • Types of maladministration alleged – (i) breach of, or (ii) breach of duties relating to: Reasonable time-limit for taking decisions [Article 17 ECGAB],Requests for information [Article 22 ECGAB]

Strasbourg, 14 December 2007

Dear Mr M.,

On 4 April 2005, you submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman against the European Commission concerning a Marie Curie European Reintegration Grant provided to you by the Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme.

On 13 May 2005, I forwarded your complaint to the Commission and asked it to submit an opinion. The Commission sent its opinion on 6 October 2005.

On 18 October 2005, I forwarded the Commission's opinion to you with an invitation to make observations. You sent your observations on 9 November 2005, and supplemented them by letter of 10 November 2005, to which you attached further evidence supporting your statements.

On 27 January 2006, I addressed further inquiries to the Commission. The Commission replied to the further inquiries on 29 March 2006.

Upon your request of 11 May 2006, I sent you a copy of the Commission's reply on 16 May 2006.

On 30 June 2006, you sent your remarks on the Commission's reply to the further inquiries.

On 27 March 2007, I sent to the Commission a proposal for a friendly solution concerning two aspects of your complaint. By letters of 30 April 2007 and 11 July 2007, the Commission requested extensions of the deadline for submitting its reply to the proposal. On 8 October 2007, the Commission sent its reply which was forwarded to you by e-mail on 29 October 2007. On 5 November 2007, you sent your observations on the reply.

I am writing now to let you know the results of the inquiries that have been made.


THE COMPLAINT

On 30 December 2003, the complainant submitted, jointly with the Institute of Mathematics "Simion Stoilow" of the Romanian Academy ("IMAR"), a proposal in reply to "Call for proposals for Marie Curie European Reintegration Grants FP6-2002-Mobility-11"(1) published in the Official Journal of 17 December 2002 (the "Proposal"). The call for proposals related to a grant provided by the Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme 2002-2006(2) (the "Grant"). The purpose of the Grant was to assist IMAR, as a host institution, to ensure the professional re-integration of the complainant in his country of origin(3). The project to be co-funded by the grant was due to commence on 1 October 2004.

By letter of 7 May 2004, the Commission informed IMAR of the positive evaluation of the Proposal, and, on 27 September 2004, IMAR received draft contract No MERG-CT-2004-006375 (the "Draft Contract") from the Commission, signed it and returned it to the Commission immediately. However, by 1 October 2004, which was the starting date of the project co-funded with the Grant, the Commission had neither signed the Draft Contract, nor paid the pre-financing to IMAR(4).

In the meantime, on 9 July 2004, a French graduate scientist applied to IMAR with a view to participating, as a visiting post-doctoral researcher, in the research project carried out by the complainant under the Grant. The visiting post-doctoral researcher arrived in Bucharest on 30 September 2004.

Between October 2004 and March 2005, the complainant urged the Commission by e-mails to sign the Contract and to pay the pre-financing, and sought explanations for the delay.

On 13 December 2004, the Commission requested a declaration with respect to the complainant's previous fellowship from IMAR. This was, according to the Commission, necessary in order to prove his eligibility for the project. The complainant sent the requested information on 15 December 2004 and supplemented it on 16 December 2004. The complainant noted that this information was already contained in his application of 30 December 2003 for the Grant.

On 8 February 2005, the complainant set up a website(5) containing a chronology of the steps taken by the Commission and by IMAR in handling the Grant.

By e-mail of 10 February 2005, the Commission informed the complainant that it had signed the Draft Contract, and apologised "for this serious delay." The contract, duly signed by the Commission, was received by IMAR on 15 February 2005 (the "Contract"). It contained a clause whereby the legally binding starting date was 1 October 2004. The pre-financing was finally credited to IMAR's bank account on 15 March 2005.

By e-mail of 18 February 2005, the complainant submitted a formal complaint to the Commission, alleging:

  1. unnecessary delays in signing the Contract and wiring the pre-financing;
  2. failure to reply to the complainant's questions(6); and
  3. refusal to provide correct information as regards the documents to be submitted before the signing of the Contract and the reasons for the delays.

Further, the complainant claimed that:

  1. the duration of the Contract should be extended by one year, that is, to 30 September 2006, to enable him to spend the Grant for the purpose it was set up for;
  2. the Commission should give complete and timely answers to his messages;
  3. the Commission should pay (a) compensation for the devaluation of the pre-financing following the deterioration of the exchange rate of the Euro against the Romanian Leu in the period between the starting date and the date of crediting the pre-financing to IMAR's bank account, and (b) a penalty equal to the bank interest on the pre-financing for the period between the starting date and the date the pre-financing was credited to IMAR's bank account;
  4. the Commission should inform him of the reasons for the maladministration and of the measures taken to avoid its re-occurrence in the future.

In its acknowledgment of receipt of the same day, the Commission recognised that the time taken to prepare the Contract was longer than it would have hoped and that some of the delays were the responsibility of the Commission's services. It underlined its willingness to review the handling of the preparation of the Contract in order to identify what it could do to improve the situation for the future. The Commission also indicated that the extension of the duration of the Contract might be problematic due to the limits set out in the relevant Work Programme. However, it offered to revise the starting date of the project instead so that the project would be deemed to have started at a later date.

By e-mail of 21 February 2005, the complainant informed the Commission of the obstacles which, in his view, did not allow for the starting date of the project to be changed. In particular, he noted that the visiting post-doctoral researcher commenced work on 1 October 2004 (the original starting date for the project). Therefore, it would be impossible to pay the salary allocated to the post-doctoral researcher from the Grant if the period to be covered by the Grant were to commence after 1 October 2004. The complainant added that he had already agreed to pay, as of 28 January 2005, travel expenses for some visiting researchers from the Grant. Thus, it was vital to commence the coverage before that date. Finally, the complainant noted that a significant deterioration in the Leu/Euro exchange rate occurred in November 2004. However, he signalled that he was open to any "reasonable" solution.

By e-mail of 24 February 2005, the Commission asked the complainant to confirm whether he would like to amend the starting date of the project. It stated that, in such an event, an internal procedure would have to be started.

By e-mail of 25 February 2005, the complainant informed the Commission that the best solution would be to extend the duration of the Contract and not to postpone the starting date. However, the complainant stated that he would be ready to accept a compromise solution, whereby the starting date would be delayed, provided the Commission could address, in this new context, the complainant's other requests made in the complaint of 18 February 2005. The complainant also asked the Commission to ensure that the transfer of the pre-financing actually took place.

On 7 March 2005, the Commission informed the complainant that it was IMAR which had to request the change of the starting date of the project because the Contract was between the Commission and IMAR, which, in turn, had an agreement with the researcher, that is, the complainant.

On 11 March 2005, the Commission answered the complainant's complaint of 18 February 2005 as follows:

  1. The Commission emphasised that: (a) since the selection decision concerning the Proposal was taken on 16 July 2004, this date was the earliest date on which the research project could start, and, as a result, it was the earliest date after which costs could be charged to a contract (even if it were signed at a later date); (b) the Work Programme envisaged that the financial contribution of the Community must be spent within a 12-month period, which is why a contractual duration longer than 12 months was not possible for this Marie Curie activity; (c) it might be possible to postpone the starting date of the project until a later date, and that, in this way, costs could be charged, from the delayed starting date, for a full 12-month period.
  2. The Commission further rejected the complainant's claim for compensation for the exchange rate deterioration, and explained that payment of interest would only be possible if the payment of the pre-financing were delayed beyond the 45-day period following the entry into force of the Contract.
  3. As regards the reasons for the delay in preparing the Contract, the Commission stated that there was a delay in the negotiation process due to: (a) the illness of one of the staff members; (b) the fact that all open negotiations for this scheme were transferred to another staff member; and (c) the fact that a new system for preparing contracts was commissioned at the relevant time. The Commission added that the draft Contract was sent to IMAR on 21 September 2004, which is consistent with the starting date envisaged in the Contract preparation forms (1 October 2004). Further, it indicated that IMAR also contributed to the delay.
  4. The Commission continued by noting that a number of new working practices have been introduced since September 2004 in order to limit the delays between the call deadline and the signing of the contract. These changes were also part of a review at a much more senior level within the Commission. Finally, it noted that the complainant's experiences and comments would of course be taken into account in order to improve the situation for subsequent applicants.

In his reply of the same day, the complainant made it clear that he found the Commission's answer to be unsatisfactory. He emphasised that the visiting post-doctoral researcher had not been paid for five and a half months. Given that this visiting post-doctoral researcher had been hired on 1 October 2004, the complainant wondered how he could pay him if the starting date were postponed until a later date. He added, as regards the 12-month time-limit set out in the Work Programme, that it was only a "bureaucratic rule that can be bureaucratically changed". The complainant went on to say that a grant of this amount cannot be spent by a researcher over a period of six months without proper preparation, and reiterated his claim for compensation for the exchange rate deterioration. The complainant then expressed his hope that the Commission did not mean to say that the fault for the delay was the complainant's or IMAR's.

Given that the above e-mail exchange did not lead to a mutually acceptable solution, the complainant submitted his complaint to the European Ombudsman on 4 April 2005. The complainant stated that there were: (i) unnecessary delays in signing the Contract and paying the pre-financing; (ii) a failure to reply to his questions; and (iii) a refusal to provide correct information as regards the documents to be submitted before the signing of the Contract and the reasons for the delays. He stated that the corrective measures could include (i) an extension of the duration of the Contract by one year; (ii) complete and timely answers to his messages; (iii) payment of compensation and interest; (iv) information on the reasons for the maladministration and of the measures taken to avoid it in the future; and (v) the identification and sanctioning of the Commission officials responsible for mishandling his Grant.

In light of the above, the Commission was requested to respond to the allegation that it had failed to handle the administration of the Grant properly, and the claim that it should take corrective measures, both as regards the Grant and in order to avoid similar problems in the future.

THE INQUIRY

The Commission's opinion

The Ombudsman forwarded the complaint to the Commission and asked it to submit an opinion. The Commission's opinion was as follows:

The Commission first pointed out that the Contract was signed between the Commission and IMAR (as the host institution). Although the complainant was the researcher carrying out the project co-funded by the Grant, and was thus the ultimate beneficiary of the co-funding, he was a "third party" vis-à-vis the Commission. There was thus no direct contractual relationship between the Commission and the complainant.

According to the Commission, the negotiation of the Contract with IMAR started on 7 May 2004, the formal Commission decision on the project was taken on 16 July 2004, and the Contract was signed by the Commission on 4 February 2005.

The Commission briefly described the basic structure of the Marie Curie European Reintegration Grants ("ERG") under the Sixth Framework Programme. The Commission referred, in this regard, to Section 2.3.4.1. of the Human Resources and Mobility Work Programme(7), according to which the Marie Curie Return and Reintegration Grants are aimed at researchers from the EU and Associated Countries who have just completed a Marie Curie Fellowship of a period of at least two years. The objective of the Marie Curie Return and Reintegration Grants is to assist the professional reintegration of researchers, preferably in their country or region of origin.

The Commission emphasised that this support consists of a lump sum, which is provided in the form of a grant and which is intended to last for one year. It is intended to benefit a researcher's reintegration through a reintegration host. The reintegration host commits itself to ensuring the effective and lasting reintegration of the researcher. The Commission also underlined that, according to the structure of the Community's financial contribution for this type of action, a grant is not intended to be used as a contribution to the researcher's salary, but only for expenses which are necessary to carry out the project, such as the cost of personnel other than the eligible researcher, equipment costs, consumables, and travel costs.

As regards the complainant's allegations and claims, the Commission first addressed the issue of the extension of the Contract duration by one year. It reiterated that such an extension would not be possible because, as stated in Section 2.3.4.1. of the Work Programme, the action consists of a lump sum provided in the form of a grant which is intended to last for a period of one year. The Commission further referred to the acknowledgement of receipt concerning the complainant's complaint of 18 February 2005 sent by e-mail of the same day, in which it informed him that it would be possible to review the starting date of the project. The Commission also referred to its e-mail of 24 February 2005, in which it asked the complainant whether he would like to amend the starting date of the project, and to its e-mail of 7 March 2005, in which it informed him that it must be the host organisation which requests such an amendment. The Commission noted that, up to July 2005, it had not received any formal request for a contract amendment from IMAR.

The Commission further addressed the issue of the delays in the preparation of the Contract, together with the alleged refusal to provide information concerning the documents to be submitted before the Contract was signed. The Commission took the view that the reason for such an unusual delay was, primarily, the poor co-operation of IMAR in submitting the legal information needed for the preparation of the Contract. The Commission referred to: (i) the proof of authority of the IMAR representative to sign the Contract; and (ii) the proof of eligibility of the complainant for the project.

The Commission also stated that, once the procedure for the preparation of the Contract was completed, a change of the IMAR representative required an additional administrative verification by the Commission in order to finalise the Contract.

Nevertheless, the Commission admitted that the Commission had contributed to the delay. It regretted this contribution. It stated that this contribution was caused by:

  1. a series of exceptional and unforeseeable circumstances related to changes in personnel;
  2. unexpected difficulties in the proper functioning of the IT tools used in the administrative procedure;
  3. the huge number of contractual proposals to be negotiated in the relevant period (the number of the proposals selected for funding was more than double the number of proposals selected in the previous call for proposals).

The Commission added that the above information was provided to the complainant by e-mails of 18 February 2005 and 11 March 2005. The Commission also added that, despite the delays in the negotiation of the Contract, it accepted the date of 1 October 2004 as the starting date of the project, which remained within the six-month period following the complainant's previous fellowship and thus was in line with the objective of the scheme.

The Commission refused to accept that professional errors were made by its officials. It pointed out that, since September 2004, it had introduced a number of new working practices aimed at avoiding similar delays occurring in the future.

As regards the complainant's claims for financial compensation, the Commission considered that there were no grounds to pay any compensation or interest, because: (i) there is no contractual relationship between the Commission and the complainant and no compensation had been claimed by IMAR; (ii) the pre-financing was paid in accordance with Article 6.1(a) of the Contract, that is, within less than 45 days after its entry into force (the Commission signed the Contract on 4 February 2005 and the pre-financing was received by IMAR on 15 March 2005); and (iii) the Contract provided that exchange losses are not eligible costs(8).

The complainant's observations

In his observations, the complainant disagreed with the Commission's opinion and maintained his complaint.

As regards the delays in the process of finalising the Contract, he protested against the Commission's statements concerning the allegedly poor co-operation of IMAR in submitting the required documents. The complainant stated that:

  1. The proof of his eligibility for the project was already contained in the Proposal which he submitted on 30 December 2003. This is the reason why IMAR did not send proof of eligibility when the Commission requested it in an annex to the cover letter of 21 September 2004. Moreover, since the proof of the complainant's eligibility was in fact the statement of the complainant's previous Marie Curie fellowships funded by the Commission itself, this information must have been known to the Commission. Nevertheless, when the Commission again requested proof of the complainant's eligibility by e-mail of 13 December 2004, IMAR promptly sent it on 15 December 2004 (and again on 16 December 2004).
  2. The proof of authority of the IMAR representative, required in an annex to the Commission's negotiation letter of 7 May 2004, was sent to the Commission by fax of 13 May 2004. With respect to the change of the Director of IMAR, the complainant stated that IMAR sent new proof of his authority to the Commission by DHL on 30 September 2004.

The complainant further addressed the alleged absence of IMAR's request for the Contract amendment before July 2005, stating that such requests were received by the Commission. He referred to: (i) his e-mail of 25 February 2005 to the Commission; (ii) the e-mail of the Director of IMAR to the Commission dated 7 June 2005; and (iii) the letter of the Director of IMAR to the Commission dated 27 July 2005. He added that the Commission acknowledged receipt of these requests in its letter of 12 September 2005 to IMAR.

As regards the refusal to provide information, the complainant reiterated his allegation that the Commission failed to inform him properly of the documents to be submitted before the Contract was signed. He added that, between 24 December 2004 and 8 February 2005, IMAR and he were wrongly informed that the signing of the Contract would take place in only a few days.

The complainant also pointed out that the Commission officials misspelled his name and the name of his colleague in several e-mails. He took the view that, most probably, they did so intentionally in order to show their disrespect towards him and his colleague.

As regards the failure to reply, the complainant took the view that the Commission only answered his e-mails after delays and did not address the points he raised, or addressed them only formally.

The complainant also made a new allegation that the Commission attempted to intimidate him through the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research (with the aim of shutting down his website).

Finally, given that, at the time of his observations, the Contract had already expired, the complainant modified his claims. The modified claims were, in summary, as follows:

  1. The Commission should pay interest on the pre-financing for the period between 16 July 2004 (the date of the approval of the Grant) and 15 March 2005 (the date the pre-financing was credited to IMAR's bank account).
  2. The Commission should pay the difference of 18% in the currency exchange rates (of the Euro against the Romanian Leu) which affected the pre-financing as a result of maladministration by the Commission in relation to the Contract.
  3. The Commission should make a personal apology to him.
  4. The Commission should compensate the complainant personally for the time he spent trying to resolve this issue with the Commission. Alternatively, the Commission should provide funding to the Marie Curie Fellowship Association in order to supervise how the Framework Programmes are run.
Further inquiries

After a careful study of the Commission's opinion and the complainant's observations, the Ombudsman considered that further inquiries were necessary. Therefore, he asked the Commission to:

  1. comment on the complainant's statements alleging systemic misspelling of the complainant's and his colleague's names;
  2. comment on the complainant's statements alleging intimidation with the aim of shutting down his website;
  3. provide details of the measures aimed at improving the timing of the signing of contracts and at avoiding similar delays occurring in the future (which the Commission had mentioned at the end of its opinion), including an estimate as to when the effects of those measures are expected to be perceived by the researchers concerned;
  4. reconsider, in light of the complainant's statements concerning the reasons for the delays, whether it wishes to maintain its argument that the unusual duration of the procedure was "due primarily to the poor co-operation of the host institution in submitting the legal information needed for the preparation of the contract"; and
  5. inform the Ombudsman whether, in light of the above considerations, it would be prepared to offer the complainant ex gratia compensation for the fact, accepted in its opinion, that delays for which it was responsible had occurred.
The further opinion of the Commission

In summary, the Commission replied to the further inquiries as follows:

First, the Commission again pointed out that it concluded the Contract with IMAR and thus had no direct contractual relationship with the complainant.

The Commission then took the view that the delay in the preparation of the Contract, which was caused by a series of factors, did not affect the starting date of the project, that is, 1 October 2004, nor have any direct impact on the researcher, that is, the complainant, or on his salary because it was entirely the responsibility of IMAR. The Commission added that the objective of the Grant, namely, the successful reintegration of the researcher into a scientific career in his country of origin, was achieved. The Commission then addressed the Ombudsman's further inquiries as follows:

1. Systemic misspelling

The Commission recognised that, unfortunately, the names of some correspondents were misspelled in some cases. However, it underlined that this was not done intentionally, systematically or for the purpose alleged in the complainant's observations. The Commission further stated that this was an unfortunate occurrence in the present case, and that, although careful checking of correspondents' names was usually carried out, errors could not be completely avoided given the volume of the correspondence and the fact that it involved contacts with researchers of various nationalities. The Commission added that, when the misspelling was brought to its attention, it immediately apologised for the mistake.

2. Intimidation with a view to shutting down the complainant's website:

The Commission pointed out that the tone of all its correspondence with the complainant and his colleagues (which contains more than 60 items) was professional and courteous, and never intimidating.

The Commission added that, in order to maintain a professional approach to the implementation of the Contract, several members of its staff took a conscious decision not to consult the complainant's website during the duration of the Contract. According to the Commission, although it represented the legitimate exercise of his right to criticise aspects that he considered to be incorrect, the complainant's website contained offensive statements concerning the Commission staff members, which the complainant repeated also in his observations on the Commission's opinion(9).

The Commission also addressed the complainant's additional allegation according to which Commission services attempted to intimidate him through the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research with the aim of shutting down his website. The Commission referred to, and attached a copy of, a letter dated 4 August 2005 sent by the Director of the Human Resources and Mobility at the Directorate-General for Research to the Deputy Secretary of State at the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research. According to the Commission, the Director asked in that letter whether his personal intervention might solve the impasse caused by the lack of a formal request from IMAR to amend the Contract, and drew the Ministry's attention to the existence of the complainant's website in order to emphasise the need for an urgent solution to the problem. The Commission emphasised that it exerted no pressure through the Ministry and that any action taken by the latter with regard to the website was at the Ministry's own initiative.

The Commission added that the effectiveness of this approach is shown by the reply of the Deputy Secretary of State of 3 October 2005(10), as well as by the Director's follow-up letter of 7 November 2005 to the Deputy Secretary of State(11).

3. New working practices to avoid similar delays occurring in the future

The Commission stated that the exceptional circumstances mentioned in its opinion contributed to the overall delays in the management of several contracts, including the one concerning the reintegration of the complainant. According to the Commission, the actions taken to resolve these problems consist of the following:

  1. The change from one IT system to another (CPM-interim to CPM), which was completed in mid-2004 and which covered, unfortunately, the period when the Contract was due to be prepared. The introduction of the new IT system was now complete and the delays, which were initially experienced, no longer occured.
  2. An operational unit responsible for all Individual and Re-integration Fellowships was created following a review and restructuring of the Directorate of Human Resources and Mobility carried out in June 2004. As a consequence, the time between deadline for submission of proposal and preparation of contract for re-integration grants had been reduced. The Commission provided a table showing the relevant improvements.
  3. The staffing levels for the services responsible for Individual Fellowships were further reviewed and a new post for a Financial Officer was created in November 2004.
  4. In September 2005, a new sector was created within the Individual Fellowships Unit, and a Head of Sector, who was to concentrate on the re-integration actions, was appointed.

As a result of these changes, the time between the deadline for submission of proposals and preparation of contracts had been reduced. As regards the call which had a deadline of 15 January 2004 (that is, the call which involved the complainant), the delays(12) in the preparation of the contracts were 8 months for the first contracts, and 13 months for the last contract. As regards the call with a deadline of April 2005, the delays were six months for the first contracts, and seven months for the last contracts. As regards the call with a deadline of July 2005, the delays were five months for the first contracts, and six months for the last contracts. The last three rounds of proposal evaluation and contract preparation (ERG 8, ERG 9 and ERG 10) were processed twice as quickly as the proposal evaluation and contract preparation corresponding to the call which involved the complainant (that is, the call which had a deadline of 15 January 2004). The Commission underlined that this schedule was now consistent with the indicative provisions laid down in the Work Programme.

4. Duration of the procedures and the cause of the delay

The Commission stated again that it regretted the delays in the preparation of contracts concerning the ERG action which involved the complainant, and, in particular, in finalising the Contract concerning the reintegration of the complainant. In spite of difficult circumstances (in particular, IT and personnel issues), significant efforts were made to overcome the difficulties. The delay between the signing of the Contract by IMAR (September 2004) and by the Commission (February 2005) had also to be considered in light of the absence of certain documents which, as indicated in the Commission's opinion on the present complaint, were requested from IMAR. Had these documents been duly supplied by IMAR, the Commission could have signed the Contract in October or November 2004, which would have meant only a slight delay compared to the timetable contained in the Work Programme . In this context, the Commission addressed the complainant's comment, made in his observations, that he did not submit proof of his eligibility when the Commission requested it in the annex to the cover letter of 21 September 2004 because that proof was already contained in the research proposal submitted on 30 December 2003. The Commission referred to the distinction between Individual Fellowships and Host Fellowships and explained that the unit responsible for Reintegration grants had no direct access to the information that it requested on 21 September 2004.

Moreover, the Commission pointed out that the change of IMAR's representative (which occurred immediately after the Commission sent the Draft Contract to IMAR), the change of IMAR's bank account, and the introduction of the IBAN code into the Romanian banking system had to be clarified by IMAR after it returned the signed Draft Contract to the Commission. These factors contributed to the delay.

The Commission also reiterated that a project could start before the actual date when the contract was signed, with the implication that eligible costs incurred by IMAR from the starting date of the project (1 October 2004) were recoverable under the Contract.

Further, given that the pre-financing was paid within 45 days of the Contract being signed, and the final payment was made 22 days after the submission of the final financial and management report, the Commission did not breach its contractual obligations.

On the basis of the above, the Commission confirmed its position that a significant contribution to the delay between the signing of the Contract by IMAR and by the Commission was due to the delay by IMAR in supplying the documents required to finalise the Contract.

5. Ex gratia compensation

The Commission again summarised the legal framework of the European Reintegration Grants scheme. It added that the delay in the preparation of the Contract could have no direct impact on the researcher (the complainant) since the salary paid to him was entirely IMAR's responsibility. As regards the visiting post-doctoral researcher, the Commission took the view that a host organisation which engaged such a visiting post-doctoral researcher before the pre-financing was paid by the Commission would normally have the means to cover associated costs (which would subsequently be charged to the Contract).

The Commission further emphasised that the complainant suffered no direct damage from this delay and repeated that he was a third party vis-à-vis the Community. For the above reasons, the Commission took the view that an ex gratia compensation would not be appropriate unless the complainant could demonstrate that he suffered identifiable damage as a direct result of the part of the delay that could be attributed to the Commission.

Conclusion

The Commission concluded that, in its view, although a series of unfortunate incidents caused a delay in finalising the Contract, the handling thereof did not involve an instance of maladministration.

The Commission emphasised that correspondence undertaken by its staff was carried out in a professional manner and that initiatives were undertaken to resolve any outstanding problems. It added that its services were not discourteous and responded to substantial queries and complaints.

The complainant's further observations

In his further observations, the complainant addressed the Commission's further opinion point-by-point.

As regards the Commission's view that the delay in the preparation of the Draft Contract neither affected the starting date of the project (1 October 2004) nor had any direct impact on him, as the researcher, or his salary, the complainant argued that the activities foreseen in the Contract could, in reality, not start before 15 March 2005, when the pre-financing was credited to IMAR's bank account. Further, he argued that his scientific collaboration with the visiting French post-doctoral researcher was seriously affected by the fact that this researcher did not receive his salary. He also pointed out that he was forced to cancel a second visiting post-doctoral position.

1. Systemic misspelling

The complainant stated that the misspellings of his name and the name of his colleague were either intentional, or caused by a lack of basic aptitudes for office work. He provided six examples of misspellings, which represented 10% of the 60 items of correspondence mentioned by the Commission.

2. Intimidation with a view to shutting down the complainant's website

The complainant took the view that the letter of 4 August 2005 sent by the Director of the Human Resources and Mobility at the Directorate-General for Research to the Deputy Secretary of State at the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research was an example of an attempt at intimidation. The letter suggested that the complainant's website, hosted on the official IMAR page, should be blocked. The complainant added that the Deputy Secretary of State interpreted the above letter in the same way.

As regards the allegedly defamatory statements contained on his website, the complainant clarified that he only reproduced other scientists' views on the behaviour of the Commission's staff, and that he deliberately refrained from expressing his views in his own words.

3. New working practices to avoid similar delays occurring in the future

The complainant found the Commission's explanations and the measures taken by it to be unconvincing. He added that, usually, it never took more than a few days to prepare such standardised contracts.

4. Duration of the procedures and the cause of the delay

The complainant reiterated that at no time did IMAR take more than two days to reply to the Commission and that the delay was exclusively the Commission's fault.

5. Ex gratia compensation

The complainant referred to the Commission's statements according to which the complainant's salary was not an eligible cost and the delay in the preparation of the Contract did not therefore have a direct impact on him. In this regard, the complainant stressed that he never argued that he should receive his salary from the Grant.

The complainant went on to say that he personally suffered direct damage as a result of: (i) the time (approximately 300 hours) spent corresponding with the Commission; (ii) the impossibility of carrying out the activities which would have been covered by the Grant during the period between the starting date and the crediting of the pre-financing to IMAR's bank account (this involved missed opportunities for travelling, inviting visitors, buying and using material and so on); and (iii) the fact that he did not apply for other grants because he was expecting the Grant.

Conclusion of the complainant's further observations

The complainant referred to the letter of 7 November 2005 sent by the Director of the Human Resources and Mobility at the Directorate-General for Research to the Deputy Secretary of State at the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research, according to which "the difficulties experienced in establishing this contract (and others established during this period) were the catalyst for a number of changes within the organisation of the management of Re-integration fellowships". In this regard, the complainant took the view that the above constituted an admission by the Director that, thanks to the issues raised by the complainant, the Commission managed to improve its services. On this basis, the complainant requested, in addition to his previous claims, that the Commission should compensate him for the 300 hours of work he spent communicating with it.

Finally, the complainant requested that the Commission should be required to ensure that contracts are prepared, and money transfers made, within substantially shorter periods of time.

THE OMBUDSMAN'S EFFORTS TO ACHIEVE A FRIENDLY SOLUTION

After a careful consideration of the opinions and observations, the Ombudsman was not satisfied that the Commission had responded adequately to the complainant's arguments concerning: (i) the alleged delays in the preparation of the Contract and the related compensation claims; and (ii) the alleged failure to reply to the complainant's questions.

The proposal for a friendly solution

Article 3(5) of the Statute of the Ombudsman(13) directs the Ombudsman to seek, as far as possible, a solution with the institution concerned in order to eliminate the instance of maladministration and satisfy the complainant.

The Ombudsman therefore made the following proposal for a friendly solution to the Commission:

The Commission could consider offering the complainant its apologies for the inconveniencies caused to him by the delays and by its failure to address his questions concerning the salary of the visiting post-doctoral researcher . It would also be appropriate for the Commission to recognise the inconvenience suffered by the complainant, by making an ex gratia payment to him, which should not be less than EUR 1000.

In this proposal, the Ombudsman encouraged the Commission's services to disregard the tone of the complainant's website, when assessing the above proposals for a friendly solution, and set out the following provisional conclusions:

  • While the Ombudsman applauds the efforts which have been made to identify and remedy the serious problems that arose in the context of the administration of the Marie Curie Return and Reintegration Grants, the fact remains that the Commission was responsible, at least in part, for the serious delays that occurred in relation to the Grant. The most obvious error lies in posting the Draft Contract to IMAR on 21 September 2004, less than 10 days before the project was due to commence (IMAR received the Draft Contract on 27 September 2004, four days before the project was due to commence), even though it was foreseen that the Contract should have been concluded (that is, signed by both parties) in June 2004. In order to comply with the June 2004 deadline, the Commission should have approved the project and sent the Draft Contract to IMAR well before June 2004. The Commission has not claimed that IMAR or the complainant contributed to the delay in sending the Draft Contract to IMAR. In these circumstances, the Ombudsman arrives at the preliminary conclusion that that delay could constitute an instance of maladministration (point 1.7 of the proposal).
  • The Commission has claimed that the delays in countersigning the Contract, once it had been signed and returned to the Commission by IMAR on 27 September 2004, were due, at least in part, to failures by IMAR and the complainant to provide information. The Ombudsman notes that any missing information could have been provided by IMAR or the complainant in good time, if the Commission had not delayed sending the Draft Contract to IMAR until 21 September 2004. In any event, the Commission accepts that the delays incurred in relation to the countersigning were due only in part to IMAR and the complainant. It accepts that serious delays were due to its own failures. In these circumstances, the Ombudsman arrives at the preliminary conclusion that the Commission's contribution to those delays could constitute another instance of maladministration (point 1.8 of the proposal).
  • While it has not been demonstrated that IMAR has indicated to the Commission, in sufficiently clear and unequivocal terms, that it wishes to obtain compensation for the delays incurred by the Commission, it is evident that the complainant did suffer serious personal inconveniences as a result of the delays . Thus, the Ombudsman considers that it would be appropriate for the Commission to apologise to the complainant for the inconveniencies caused. It would also be appropriate for the Commission to recognise the inconveniences suffered by the complainant by making an ex gratia payment to the complainant, that is, a payment which does not constitute an admission of legal liability and which does not constitute a precedent (points 1.14, 1.16 and 1.17 of the proposal).
  • The Commission's failure to address the issue of the salary of the visiting post-doctoral researcher in its answers of 25 October 2004, 11 March 2005 and 18 March 2005 to the complainant could be regarded as a violation of Article 12(1) of the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour(14) (point 2.5 of the proposal).
The Commission's opinion on the proposal for a friendly solution

The Commission expressed its apologies for the inconvenience caused to the complainant by the delays that occurred in the finalisation of the contractual procedure and for not addressing the complainant's questions concerning the salary of the visiting post-doctoral researcher.

The Commission also referred to its opinion and further opinion and noted that those documents explain in detail the circumstances related to the delays which cannot be attributed entirely to the Commission. In this context, the Commission recalled that, despite the delay in the signing, the Contract was concluded between IMAR and the Commission, and the scientific project was successfully implemented as confirmed in the final report submitted by IMAR. The total amount of the fellowship was paid to IMAR and the file is now closed.

The Commission went on to state that, in view of the overall circumstances of this case, it is prepared to agree to the Ombudsman's proposal to make an ex gratia payment of EUR 1 000 to the complainant. The Commission added that this does not constitute an admission that it had not respected its contractual obligations nor does this constitute a precedent.

The Commission concluded by expressing the hope that, with this goodwill gesture towards the complainant, the matter would be closed. The Commission would immediately undertake the necessary internal procedures to make the ex gratia payment.

The complainant's observations

The complainant first pointed to the Commission's requests of 30 April 2007 and 11 July 2007 for extensions of the deadline for its reply to the Ombudsman's proposal for a friendly solution, and to the fact that the Commission only sent the reply on 8 October 2007, which was eight days after the extended deadline of 30 September 2007.

The complainant further stated that he welcomes the Commission's apologies for the delay and the offer of an ex gratia payment.

However, he took the view that the Commission's apologies are nullified by the statement that the delays "(...) cannot be attributed entirely to the Commission." According to the complainant, that statement attempts to justify the delay and thus goes against the Ombudsman's proposal for a friendly solution. In this regard, the complainant cited from point 1.4 of the proposal, according to which "(...) the Ombudsman considers that IMAR's eventual contribution to the delay in the preparation of the Contract cannot be viewed as a circumstance justifying the Commission's own contribution to that delay."

The complainant concluded by confirming his readiness to accept the Ombudsman's proposal for a friendly solution, which would, in his view, be accurately implemented by the Commission's reply of 8 October 2007, provided that the above statement, or the entire paragraph in which the statement is contained, be removed and no further attempt of justification of the delay be introduced.

THE DECISION

1 Alleged delays in preparation of the Contract and the related claims for compensation and apologies

1.1 On 30 December 2003, the complainant submitted, jointly with the Institute of Mathematics "Simion Stoilow" of the Romanian Academy ("IMAR"), a proposal in reply to "Call for proposals for Marie Curie European Reintegration Grants FP6-2002-Mobility-11"(15) published in the Official Journal of 17 December 2002 (the "Proposal"). The call for proposals related to a grant provided by the Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme 2002-2006(16) (the "Grant"). The purpose of the Grant was to help IMAR ensure, as a host institution, the professional re-integration of the complainant in his country of origin, following his previous Marie Curie Fellowships. The project to be supported by the Grant was due to commence on 1 October 2004. By letter of 7 May 2004, the Commission informed IMAR of the positive evaluation of the Proposal. The Commission's formal decision approving the Grant was taken on 16 July 2004.

On 27 September 2004, that is, four days before the projected starting date for the project, IMAR received the Draft Contract from the Commission, signed it and returned it to the Commission.

The Commission signed the Contract on 4 February 2005, and the pre-financing was credited to IMAR's bank account on 15 March 2005.

In his complaint to the Ombudsman, the complainant alleged undue delays in the preparation of the Contract and in the payment of the pre-financing. He claimed that the Commission should pay interest on the pre-financing for the period between 16 July 2004 and 15 March 2005, as well as the difference of 18% in currency exchange rates (of the Euro against the Romanian Leu) for the period between 1 October 2004 and 15 March 2005. He also claimed that the Commission should compensate him personally and make a personal apology to him.

1.2 In its opinions, the Commission took, in summary, the position that the delays in the preparation of the Contract were caused in part by IMAR and in part by the Commission itself, and regretted its own contribution to the delays.

The Commission also explained the reasons for its own contribution to the overall delays in the management of several contracts, including the Contract, and pointed out that, since September 2004, it had introduced a number of new working practices in order to improve the signing of contracts and to avoid similar delays from occurring in the future.

1.3 In his proposal for a friendly solution, the Ombudsman asked the Commission to consider offering the complainant its apologies for the inconveniencies caused to him by the delays in the preparation of the Contract, and to recognise the inconvenience suffered by the complainant, by making an ex gratia payment to him which should not be less than EUR 1000.

The Ombudsman's proposal was mainly based on the consideration that it followed, from the indicative provisions of Annex Mob-A (Road Map for Calls for Proposals) to the Work Programme relevant to call FP6-2002-Mobility-11(17), that the Contract between the Commission and IMAR should have been concluded in June 2004, but was eventually countersigned by the Commission only on 4 February 2005, which corresponds to a delay of at least seven months. The Commission was responsible, at least in part, for this delay. While it has not been demonstrated that IMAR has indicated to the Commission, in sufficiently clear and unequivocal terms, that it wishes to obtain compensation for the delay incurred by the Commission, the complainant clearly claimed compensation for the serious personal inconveniences that he suffered as a result of the delay.

1.4 In its reply, the Commission expressed its apologies for the inconvenience caused to the complainant by the delays that occurred in the finalisation of the contractual procedure. It also referred to its opinion and further opinion and noted that those documents explain the circumstances related to the delays which cannot be attributed entirely to it. The Commission concluded that, as a goodwill gesture towards the complainant, it is prepared to agree to the Ombudsman's proposal to make an ex gratia payment of the EUR 1 000 to the complainant, and would immediately undertake the necessary internal procedures to allow the payment.

1.5 The complainant welcomed the Commission's apologies for the delay as well as its offer of an ex gratia payment. However, he took the view that the Commission's apologies are nullified by its statement that the delays "(...) cannot be attributed entirely to the Commission", since that statement attempts to justify the delays and thus goes against the proposal for a friendly solution. In this regard, the complainant cited from point 1.4 of the proposal, according to which "(...) the Ombudsman considers that IMAR's eventual contribution to the delay in the preparation of the Contract cannot be viewed as a circumstance justifying the Commission's own contribution to that delay." The complainant concluded by confirming his readiness to accept the Ombudsman's proposal for a friendly solution, provided that the above statement, or the entire paragraph in which it is contained, be removed from the Commission's reply of 8 October 2007 and no further attempt of justification of the delay be introduced.

1.6 The Ombudsman considers that, by (i) offering apologies to the complainant; and (ii) agreeing to his proposal to make an ex gratia payment to the complainant in the amount proposed by the Ombudsman, the Commission fully accepted his proposal for a friendly solution.

In the Ombudsman's view, the Commission's statement that the delays "(...) cannot be attributed entirely to the Commission" does not, in any way, affect the above finding, nor does it nullify the Commission's apologies as suggested by the complainant.

In fact, the complainant's above citation from point 1.4 of the Ombudsman's proposal for a friendly solution is clearly based on a distinction between the Commission's and IMAR's contribution to the delays. The Commission's statement that the delays cannot be attributed entirely to it can therefore only be viewed as being in line with that distinction. The statement is also consistent with the Commission's opinion and its further opinion, in which it explained the reasons for its own contribution to the delays and pointed to IMAR's contribution to the delays.

As far as IMAR's contribution to the delays is concerned, the Ombudsman refers to point 3.6 below.

1.7 On the basis of the above, the Ombudsman considers that the Commission's response to his proposal for a friendly solution provides a good basis for the parties themselves to reach an agreement on the modalities for effecting payment of the ex gratia compensation, and that it is therefore unnecessary for the Ombudsman to continue his inquiry regarding the alleged delays in preparation of the Contract and the related claims for compensation and apologies.

2 Alleged failure to reply to the complainant's questions

2.1 The complainant alleged that the Commission failed to answer some of his e-mails, that some of the Commission's answers were late and that, in some of its answers, the Commission provided incomplete or incorrect information.

2.2 In its further opinion, the Commission took the view that correspondence from its staff was professional and initiatives were undertaken to resolve any outstanding problems. It added that its services were not discourteous and responded to queries and complaints.

2.3 Given the extent of the correspondence exchanged between the complainant and the Commission, the Ombudsman examined the above allegation on the basis of one issue forming part thereof, which was underlined in the complainant's complaint of 18 February 2005 to the Commission. The complainant stated in that complaint that, among other things, the Commission failed, following his e-mails of 15, 21 and 22 October 2004 and 14 December 2004, to address the issue of the visiting post-doctoral researcher who could not receive his salary between October 2004 and 15 March 2005.

2.4 In his proposal for a friendly solution, the Ombudsman asked the Commission to consider offering the complainant its apologies for the inconveniencies caused to him by its failure to address his questions concerning the salary of the visiting post-doctoral researcher.

The Ombudsman's proposal was mainly based on the consideration that it followed from the available evidence that the Commission failed to address those questions in its answers of 25 October 2004, 11 March 2005 and 18 March 2005 to the complainant, and that that failure could be regarded as a violation of Article 12(1) of the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour(18).

2.5 In its reply, the Commission expressed its apologies for not addressing the complainant's questions concerning the salary of the visiting post-doctoral researcher.

2.6 In his observations, the complainant did not take a stance on this aspect of the Commission's reply.

2.7 The Ombudsman considers that, by offering apologies to the complainant as proposed by the Ombudsman, the Commission fully accepted his proposal for a friendly solution. Therefore, the Ombudsman considers that the Commission has settled this aspect of the case.

3 Alleged refusal to provide information

3.1 The complainant alleged that the Commission failed properly to inform him of:

(i) the reasons for the delays; and (ii) the documents the Commission needed in order to sign the Contract.

3.2 As regards the reasons for the delays, the Commission stated, in its opinion, that the relevant information was provided to the complainant in e-mails dated 18 February 2005 and 11 March 2005.

3.3 The Ombudsman notes that, by e-mail dated 18 February 2005, the Commission recognised that "the time taken to prepare your contract is longer than we would have hoped and that some of the causes of these delays (...) have been the responsibility of the Commission Services (...)."

The Ombudsman further notes that, by e-mail of 11 March 2005, the Commission informed the complainant, among other things, as follows: "With regard to the reasons for the delay in the production of this contract there was a delay in the negotiation process due to the illness of one of our colleagues when all open negotiations for this scheme were transferred to another colleague and simultaneously a new system for producing contracts was commissioned."

3.4 On the above basis, the Ombudsman considers that the Commission did inform the complainant of the reasons for the delays, and that it further clarified this information in its opinion. The Ombudsman finds, therefore, no maladministration concerning this aspect of the complainant's allegation.

3.5 As regards the Commission's alleged failure to inform the complainant properly of the documents which the Commission required in order to sign the Contract, the complainant referred mainly to the proof of his eligibility for the project.

3.6 The Ombudsman notes that the Commission requested that proof, for the first time, in an annex to the cover letter of 21 September 2004. Given that IMAR did not send this information, the Commission requested it again by e-mail of 13 December 2004. Following this second request, the complainant sent the information by fax messages of 15 December 2004 and 16 December 2004.

In the Ombudsman's view, it is uncontested that the complainant and IMAR did not supply the information following the first request of 21 September 2004. In this regard, the Ombudsman noted the complainant's remark that IMAR did not send the information because it was already contained in the Proposal of 30 December 2003. However, the Ombudsman considers that, in light of the fact that this information has been clearly requested in the annex to the cover letter of 21 September 2004, IMAR or the complainant should have either complied with this request, or contacted the Commission stating that the information had been submitted in the context of the Proposal of 30 December 2003 and asking whether it was necessary to resubmit the information. Finally, the Ombudsman considers that the Commission's explanation, contained in its further opinion, concerning the reasons for which the Commission was not in a position to verify this information from its own databases, is plausible.

The Ombudsman noted the complainant's remark that the Commission could have repeated the request for proof of the complainant's eligibility earlier than 13 December 2004. Nevertheless, in light of the fact that this proof had been clearly requested in the annex to the cover letter of 21 September 2004 and the complainant and IMAR failed to supply it following that first request, the Ombudsman considers that the Commission's repetition of that request on 13 December 2004 does not amount to an instance of maladministration.

3.7 Finally, the Ombudsman also noted that, with respect to the alleged refusal to provide information, the complainant also pointed out that, between 24 December 2004 and 8 February 2005, IMAR and he were wrongly informed by the Commission that the signing of the Draft Contract would take place in only a matter of days. The complainant referred to (i) a telephone conversation of 24 December 2004 during which the Commission informed IMAR that the Draft Contract would be signed soon, and (ii) an e-mail of 10 January 2005 by which the Commission informed IMAR that the Draft Contract was in the Director's office for signing and would be returned to IMAR during that week.

The Ombudsman considers that the fact that the Commission finally signed the Draft Contract on 4 February 2005 cannot, of itself, form the basis of a conclusion that the above estimates were given with the intention of withholding the correct information about the real date of the signing of the Contract by the Commission. Therefore, the Ombudsman finds no instance of maladministration as regards this aspect of the complainant's allegation as well.

4 Alleged systemic misspelling

4.1 The complainant alleged that, in the e-mail correspondence concerning the Grant, the Commission systematically misspelled the complainant's name and his colleague's name. He took the view that the misspellings were either intentional or caused by a lack of basic aptitudes for office work, and provided six examples of misspellings, which represents 10% of the 60 items of correspondence mentioned by the Commission in its further opinion.

4.2 The Commission recognised and regretted that the names of some correspondents were misspelled in some cases, and pointed out that, when the instances misspelling were brought to its attention, it immediately apologised for them. The Commission rejected, however, the complainant's view that the misspellings were intentional or systemic, and referred to the volume of the correspondence and its character involving contacts with researchers of various nationalities.

4.3 The Ombudsman notes that, according to the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour for Staff of the European Commission in their Relations with t he Public, "[q]uality service calls for the Commission and its staff to be courteous, objective and impartial."(19) In the Ombudsman's view, correct spelling of the interlocutors' names forms part of the courtesy required by the above provision.

4.4 The Ombudsman also notes that, when the misspellings were brought to its attention, the Commission apologised for them, thereby settling the issue. The Ombudsman has, in addition, no grounds to believe that the Commission misspelled the names intentionally or for the purpose alleged by the complainant.

4.5 Therefore, the Ombudsman finds no instance of maladministration as regards this aspect of the complaint.

5 Alleged intimidation attempts

5.1 The complainant alleged, in his observations, that the Commission services attempted to intimidate him through the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research with the aim of shutting down his website. In his further observations, he took the view that the Commission's letter of 4 August 2005 to the Deputy Secretary of State at the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research is a clear example of an attempt to intimidate, as it basically suggests that the complainant's website, hosted on the official IMAR page, should be blocked, and that this was also the interpretation given to the above letter.

5.2 The Commission rejected the complainant's allegation and provided a copy of the above letter. According to the Commission, the Director of the Human Resources and Mobility at the Commission's Directorate-General for Research asked in the letter whether his personal intervention might solve the impasse caused by the lack of a formal request from IMAR to amend the Contract. The Director also drew the Ministry's attention to the existence of the complainant's website in order to emphasise the need for an urgent solution of the problem.

5.3 The Ombudsman has carefully studied the Commission's letter of 4 August 2005 and notes that it contains, among others, the following statement:

"Furthermore this fellow is publishing on the official website of the IMAR a chronology of the situation, with the self-explaining title «Marie Curie European Reintegration Grant: a trap to avoid» that from a legal point of view could be considered as defamatory to the officers of this service [sic] that are named in the web pages (...) Could I therefore ask you to make whatever enquiries are necessary [as to] whether the host organisation requires specific action to be taken (...)".

The Ombudsman considers that it is obvious from the above wording that the Commission was not satisfied with the content of the complainant's website. However, in contrast to the position taken by the complainant, the Ombudsman does not consider that the above wording amounts to an attempt at intimidation. The interpretation of the content of the above letter by its addressee, referred to by the complainant, is not, in the Ombudsman's view, a sufficient argument in favour of the complainant's allegation.

5.4 On the basis of the above considerations, the Ombudsman finds no instance of maladministration as regards this aspect of the complaint.

6 Conclusion

6.1 On the basis of his inquiries, the Ombudsman considers that (i) no further inquiries are justified regarding the alleged delays in the preparation of the Contract and the related claims for compensation and apologies; and (ii) the Commission has taken steps to settle the alleged failure to reply to the complainant's questions concerning the salary of the visiting post-doctoral researcher.

6.2 The Ombudsman finds no maladministration as regards (i) the alleged refusal to provide information on the reasons for the delays and the documents it needed in order to sign the Contract; (ii) the alleged systemic misspelling of the complainant's and his colleague's names; and (iii) the alleged intimidation attempts with the aim of shutting down the complainant's website.

The President of the Commission will be informed of this decision.

Yours sincerely,

 

P. Nikiforos DIAMANDOUROS


(1) OJ 2002 C 315, pp. 58, 59 and 72.

(2) Decision No 1513/2002/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2002 concerning the sixth framework programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities, contributing to the creation of the European Research Area and to innovation, OJ 2002 L 232, p. 1.

(3) Section 2.3.4.1. of the Human Resources and Mobility Work Programme (cited in note 7 below).

(4) According to the Draft Contract, pre-financing equal to 80% of the Grant should have been paid within 45 days from the entry into force of the Contract.

(5) This website is located at http://www.imar.ro/~sergium/erg.html.

(6) In particular, the complainant referred to his e-mails in which he drew the Commission's attention to the fact that the visiting post-doctoral researcher was not receiving his salary and asked how he should pay him.

(7) Commission Decision C(2002)4791 of 6 December 2002 as amended by Commission Decision C(2003)2708 of 29 July 2003, not published in the Official Journal. The relevant information package (available at http://cordis.europa.eu/fp6/dc/index.cfm?fuseaction=UserSite.FP6DetailsCallPage&call_id=35#, last accessed on 8 February 2007) contains a January 2004 edition of the Human Resources and Mobility Work Programme.

(8) Article II.17.2(d) of the General Conditions attached to the Contract.

(9) The Commission referred to paragraph 7 of section 3 of the complainant's observations, in which he published an e-mail that he received on 17 February 2005. According to that e-mail, the sender's partner, as well as a friend of the sender, experienced similar problems with their grants. The Ombudsman observes that the e-mail contains offensive language directed at certain Commission officials.

(10) In this letter, the Deputy Secretary of State referred to the letter from the Director of IMAR to the Commission dated 27 July 2005, according to which the e-mail from the Director of IMAR to the Commission of 7 June 2005 represents IMAR's official request for action.

(11) In this letter, the Director stated that: (i) the Commission received the letter of 27 July 2005 from the Director of IMAR confirming the position of IMAR; (ii) IMAR decided not to postpone the starting date of the project and that, as a consequence, the Contract expired in October 2005; (iii) since the end of October 2005, IMAR had been in contact with the Commission's services in order to prepare its claim for the final payment; (iv) the complainant's recruitment by IMAR is a positive outcome both for the complainant and IMAR; and (v) the difficulties experienced in finalising the Contract, as well as other contracts signed during that period, were the catalyst for a number of changes within the organisation of the management of re-integration fellowships, and have recently led to the establishment of a new sector in this area within the Directorate.

(12) Following the deadline for the submission of proposals.

(13) Decision 94/262 of 9 March 1994 of the European Parliament on the Regulations and General Conditions Governing the Performance of the Ombudsman's Duties, OJ 1994 L 113, p. 15.

(14) "When answering correspondence, telephone calls and e-mails, the official shall try to be as helpful as possible and shall reply as completely and accurately as possible to questions which are asked."

(15) OJ 2002 C 315, pp. 58, 59 and 72.

(16) Decision No 1513/2002/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2002 concerning the sixth framework programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities, contributing to the creation of the European Research Area and to innovation, OJ 2002 L 232, p. 1.

(17) This version of the Work Programme is available in the relevant information package at http://cordis.europa.eu/fp6/dc/index.cfm?fuseaction=UserSite.FP6DetailsCallPage&call_id=35#.

(18) See note 14 above.

(19) OJ 2000 L 267, p. 64. See third paragraph under the heading "Quality service".