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Decision in case 84/2017/NF on the European Personnel Selection Office’s handling of correspondence from a person who had been excluded from a selection competition

Available languages: en
  • Case: 84/2017/NF
    Opened on 28 Feb 2017 - Decision on 28 Feb 2017
  • Institution(s) concerned: European Personnel Selection Office

The case concerned the European Personal Selection Office’s alleged failure to reply to correspondence from a person who had been excluded from a selection competition for recruiting EU civil servants. The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that EPSO had replied to the person and that it had provided him with adequate information. There was thus no maladministration by EPSO.

The background to the complaint

1. In 2016, the complainant took part in a selection competition, organised by the European Personnel Selection Office (‘EPSO’), for the recruitment of linguistic assistants by the EU institutions.[1] Following the computer-based admission tests, the Selection Board drew up a list of candidates who had obtained the best results in these tests and who also met the eligibility criteria set out in the notice of competition. These candidates were invited to the assessment centre phase of the competition. EPSO informed the complainant that he was not admitted to the assessment centre phase, given that he was not among the candidates who had obtained the best results. EPSO stated that the best candidates had scored at least 47 points in the admission tests. The complainant’s score was lower than 47 points and the Selection Board did not, therefore, have to examine whether he met the eligibility criteria.

2. The complainant wrote to EPSO stating that he met all the eligibility criteria of the competition and that he could not understand how the cut-off score of 47 points for admission to the assessment centre had been determined. The complainant stated that he wished to file a complaint against the “non-transparent selection method” and he requested a re-examination of the selection made at the admission phase of the competition.

3. EPSO replied to the complainant explaining that the Selection Board had established the cut-off score of 47 points for admission to the assessment centre phase in line with points 1 and 2 of the notice of competition[2]. EPSO also informed the complainant that a complaint against the selection process as established in the notice of competition would have had to be filed within three months from the day following the notice’s publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.

4. The complainant considered that EPSO had failed to address the points raised by him, which concerned “the non-transparent selection procedure resulting from the notification of non-admission” rather than the procedure established in the notice of competition. He sent two further e-mails to EPSO, to which EPSO did not reply.  

5. The complainant then turned to the Ombudsman.

The inquiry

6. The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the complaint that EPSO had failed to reply to the complainant’s correspondence and to provide him with the requested information.

7. In the course of the inquiry, the Ombudsman’s inquiry team duly considered the information provided in the complaint. In particular, the inquiry team carried out a thorough analysis of the correspondence that had taken place between the complainant and EPSO before the complainant turned to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s inquiry team carried out its own research in relation to the matter complained about.

EPSO’s handling of the complainant’s correspondence

Arguments made by the complainant

8. In his complaint to the Ombudsman, the complainant put forward that EPSO had failed to reply to his correspondence and to provide him with the requested information.

The Ombudsman's assessment

9. It is uncontested that EPSO replied to the complainant’s first e-mail. While EPSO’s reply was brief, it did answer the points raised by the complainant.

10. The complainant asked EPSO how the threshold of 47 points for admission to the assessment centre phase of the competition was determined. In reply, EPSO informed the complainant that the Selection Board had established the threshold in compliance with points 1 and 2 of the notice of competition.

11. Points 1 and 2 of the notice of competition set out that in order to be invited to the assessment centre phase, candidates have to (i) meet the eligibility criteria set out in the notice of competition and (ii) have passed and scored one of the highest total marks in the admission tests.[3]

12. The general rules governing open competitions[4] provide candidates with detailed information on how admission to the assessment centre phase is determined. The general rules explain that if a competition includes computer-based admission tests, the eligibility check of candidates takes place after the admission tests have been completed. Candidates’ eligibility is checked in descending order of the marks obtained in the admission tests, until the number of eligible candidates who have passed the tests with the highest score reaches the number that can be invited to the following competition phase.

13. In the present case, the notice of competition established that approximately 2 times, but no more than 2.5 times, the number of successful candidates sought per language were to be invited to the assessment centre phase. The notice of competition also set out that the number of successful candidates sought for the relevant language was 13. The Selection Board’s decision to invite 30 candidates to the assessment centre was thus in full compliance with the publicly available rules governing the competition. The minimum admission tests score achieved by the best 30 candidates who met the eligibility criteria of the competition was 47 points. EPSO published this information on its website as soon as it was available.

14. It is the responsibility of each candidate to a selection competition to familiarise him- or herself with the legal framework of the competition. It can be reasonably expected of a candidate, like the complainant, to consult the information set out in the notice of competition and in the general rules. By informing the complainant that the Selection Board had established the threshold of 47 points in compliance with points 1 and 2 of the notice of competition, EPSO thus adequately answered the complainant’s question.

15. The complainant also stated to EPSO that he wished to file a complaint against the non-transparent “selection method”. Based on the wording used by the complainant, it was reasonable for EPSO to understand that the complainant meant to complain about the selection procedure as established in the notice of competition. EPSO provided the complainant with correct information in this regard.

16. The complainant finally asked EPSO for “a re-examination” of the selection at the admission phase of the competition. This request must reasonably be understood as directly linked to the complainant not having fully grasped how the Selection Board had determined the minimum score needed for candidates to proceed to the assessment centre phase of the competition. The request in question was thus accessory to the complainant’s main concern to get an explanation of how the cut-off score had been established. The fact that EPSO did not expressly refer to the complainant’s request for a re-examination in its reply does not, therefore, constitute a failure to reply to this point.

17. It thus follows that EPSO replied to the complainant’s first e-mail and provided him with adequate information in relation to the issues raised by him.

18. In his further e-mails to EPSO, the complainant reiterated his complaint about the allegedly non-transparent “selection method”. Given that EPSO had already provided the complainant with an adequate reply to the matters raised, it could not usefully have provided him with any further information. What is more, the complainant used abusive language in his further correspondence to EPSO. The Ombudsman has already informed the complainant, in her decision closing case 1156/2015/NF, that it does not constitute maladministration for EPSO not to reply to correspondence which contains abusive language.[5]

19. The complainant also expressed, in his correspondence with EPSO, his disapproval of the secrecy of Selection Board deliberations. It should be noted that the EU legislature has expressly provided for that secrecy[6], which has been consistently endorsed by the Court of Justice of the European Union.[7]

Conclusion

On the basis of the inquiry into this complaint, the Ombudsman closes it with the following conclusion[8]:

There was no maladministration by EPSO.

The complainant and EPSO will be informed of this decision.

Strasbourg, 28/02/2017

Tina Nilsson
Head of Inquiries - Unit 4

 

[1] The EU institutions recruit civil servants through selection procedures, usually referred to as ‘open competitions’. EPSO organises the selection procedures on behalf of the EU institutions. The check of candidates’ eligibility to take part in a selection competition and the assessment of their performance in the different tests is done by a Selection Board, which is made up of civil servants already working in the EU institutions. Candidates who are successful in the selection procedures are placed on ‘reserve lists’ and may then be recruited by the various EU institutions to become EU civil servants.

[2] The notice of competition is available here: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:C:2016:151A:FULL&from=EN

[3]If you meet the eligibility requirements according to the data in your online application and if you reached the pass marks and scored one of the highest total marks for the MCQ tests, you will be invited to attend an assessment phase [ ].

[4] OJ 2014 C 60 A, page 1. Together with the notice of competition, the general rules governing open competitions form the legally binding framework of each selection competition.

[5] See also Article 14(3) of the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour: “No acknowledgement of receipt and no reply need be sent in cases where letters or complaints are abusive because of their excessive number or because of their repetitive or pointless character.

[6] Article 6 of Annex III to the Staff Regulations.

[7] See, for example, judgment of the Court of Justice of 16 June 1987, Kolivas v Commission, 40/86, ECLI:EU:C:1987:286, para 18: “As far as the existence of a duty of secrecy is concerned, the Court held, in its judgment of 28 February 1980 in Case 89/79 Bonu v Council [1980] ECR 553, that the secrecy of the proceedings of selection boards for competitions was introduced with a view to guaranteeing the independence of selection boards and the objectivity of their proceedings, by protecting them from all external interference and pressures, and consequently it precludes the divulging of attitudes adopted by individual members of selection boards and also the disclosure of any details relating to individual or comparative assessments of candidates.

[8] Information on the review procedure can be found on the Ombudsman’s website: http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/resources/otherdocument.faces/en/70669/html.bookmark