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Decision in case 353/2017/PMC on the European Economic and Social Committee’s decision not to invite the complainant for an interview in a recruitment procedure

Available languages: en
  • Case: 353/2017/PMC
    Opened on 06 Jul 2017 - Decision on 06 Jul 2017
  • Institution(s) concerned: European Economic and Social Committee

The case concerned a recruitment procedure organised by the European Economic and Social Committee’s (EESC) for the recruitment of a temporary staff member.

The complainant turned to the Ombudsman because he was concerned that the EESC was wrong to exclude him from the recruitment procedure.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and agreed with the EESC’s finding that the complainant did not have the required language skills, as set out in the vacancy notice. The case was therefore closed with a finding of no maladministration by the EESC.

The background to the complaint

1. The complainant, a lawyer from Malta, participated in a recruitment procedure organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) for a temporary post of administrator[1]. In February 2017, the EESC informed the complainant that he was not among the short-listed candidates invited for an interview.

2. The complainant asked the EESC if it has an appeal procedure. He expressed his disbelief that many other candidates could match his legal qualifications, which, in his view, merited at least an interview.

3. The EESC replied that he had not been considered for an interview because his level of French had not been deemed sufficient. As indicated in the vacancy notice, “excellent oral and drafting skills in English and French are required”.

4. The complainant then argued that whether skills are “excellent” is subjective. The level of French that he had indicated in his application was what he believed to be his level of French at that point in time. He lives in Brussels and was to start intensive French lessons, and hence his French was improving. He believed that by the time he would start working at the EESC, his French could be considered as “excellent”.

5. The complainant further argued that the required “excellent oral AND drafting skills in English and French” is unlawful and discriminatory against those candidates who have excellent skills in any other combination of two EU languages (such as English and Italian). The complainant referred to a recent judgement of the EU Courts.[2]

6. In February 2017, the EESC informed the complainant that the selection board maintained its decision. The selection board conveyed to the complainant that it understands his disappointment at not being invited for the interview. However, the selection board is not obliged to interview all candidates that fulfil the eligibility criteria. The EESC explained that the complainant’s application was among several hundreds of candidates meeting the selection criteria set out in the vacancy notice. The quality of the majority of the applications was outstanding. Objective selection criteria had been defined to help the selection board to assess the candidates and also to ensure maximum transparency and fairness in the pre-selection process. Some criteria were compulsory, others were optional. The optional criteria were considered as additional assets, to distinguish between those eligible candidates who most closely fulfilled the specific requirements for the position.

7. The selection board had considered the complainant’s comments and it had analysed once more the information provided by the complainant in his CV. The complainant’s academic qualifications, his professional experience and skills were duly noted. His motivation to improve his level of French was considered commendable. However, the fact remains that excellent oral and drafting skills in English and French were needed for the performance of the tasks linked to this specific position. The judgement to which the complainant had referred concerns the use of languages for open recruitment competitions organised by EPSO, but it does not concern or contest the choice of language combinations for specific posts.

8. Not being satisfied with the EESC’s position, the complainant turned to the Ombudsman with his complaint in late February 2017.

The inquiry

9. The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the complainant’s concern that the EESC was wrong to exclude him from the selection procedure.

10. The complainant wished the EESC to (i) suspend the selection procedure and not to offer the post to any candidate until his complaint is resolved and decided; (ii) readmit him to the selection procedure; (iii) award the post of administrator to the candidate with best academic qualification (namely to the complainant); and (iv) award him monetary compensation.

11. 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 EESC and the complainant before the complainant turned to the Ombudsman.

The exclusion from the selection procedure

The Ombudsman's assessment

12. The vacancy notice stated that an excellent written and oral knowledge of English and French was required for the post.[3]

13. The complainant indicated in his CV enclosed with his application that, in French, his listening and reading skills correspond to B1 level, while his spoken interaction, spoken production and writing skills correspond respectively to levels B1, A2 and A1/2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages[4].

14. The assessment of a candidate’s language skill as “excellent” is thus not subjective. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages classifies B1 level as an independent user, while A2 and A1 levels are classified as basic user only. Hence, the level of French indicated by the complainant in his application does not correspond to excellent French language skills, as required for the post.

15. Given that the selection board was bound by the provisions of the vacancy notice when assessing the candidates' applications[5], it could not invite the complainant for an interview.

16. As the EESC correctly pointed out, the judgment referred to by the complainant does not exclude that a particular post requires specific language combinations.  The complainant has not put forward any argument to question the validity of the specific language combination required for this particular post.

17. The complainant’s disappointment with having been excluded from the selection procedure is entirely understandable. However, on the basis of the above, there is nothing to suggest that the selection board’s decision not to invite the complainant for an interview constituted maladministration.

Conclusion

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

By deciding not to invite the complainant for an interview in a recruitment procedure, due to his insufficient knowledge of French, the EESC did not commit maladministration.

The complainant and the EESC will be informed of this decision.

Strasbourg, 06/07/2017,

 

Tina Nilsson
Head of Inquiries - Unit 4

 

[1] http://www.eesc.europa.eu/resources/docs/vacancy-notice-ad-t-01-16---fr.pdf

[2] Joint Cases T-124/13 and T-191/13, Italy and Spain v Commission.

[3] The relevant vacancy notice sets out the following:

’Exigences impératives:

- Diplôme universitaire dans le domaine du droit public, de l’économie, des sciences politiques ou des relations internationales.

-  Expérience professionnelle de 7 années au moins en lien direct avec la nature des fonctions.

- Connaissance approfondie d’une des langues officielles de l’Union européenne et connaissance satisfaisante d’une autre de ces langues. Néanmoins, pour des raisons de service, un excellent niveau d’expression écrite et orale en anglais et en français est requis. La connaissance d’autres langues officielles de l’UE constitue un atout’’ (emphasis added).

[4] http://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/sites/default/files/cefr-en.pdf

[5] See Cases T-139/00, Bal v Commission, paragraph 35; and F-12/05, Tas v  Commission, paragraph 43.