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Decision 1222/2021/TM on how the European Commission evaluated a grant application on the topic of media freedom and investigative journalism

Dear Mr X,

In July 2021, you made a complaint to the European Ombudsman, on behalf of Journalismfund.eu, about how the European Commission evaluated your proposal under a call for proposals related to media freedom and investigative journalism[1].  We apologise for the time we took to deal with your complaint.

In your complaint, you state that the Commission failed to address the arguments you set out in your request that it review its evaluation. Specifically, you consider that the evaluation committee did not make an appropriate distinction between the different activities to be funded (criteria 1 and 5).[2] You also challenged some of the committee’s conclusions in its evaluation of your proposal under  criteria 2 and 4. In this regard, you explained in detail the nature and role of the organisations implementing the project (criterion 2) and the impact and dissemination of the expected results (criterion 4). 

In its reply to your request for review, the Commission argued that, in re-evaluating a proposal, it cannot take into account explanations or clarifications provided after the original evaluation, as this would be against the principle of equal treatment of all applicants.

Concerning criteria 1 and 5, and your argument that the evaluation committee misinterpreted the terms of the call, the Commission considered that the different activities overlap partially[3].

Concerning criteria 2 and 4, and your remaining arguments, the Commission said that the project proposal as submitted was not sufficiently clear. The Commission took the view that your clarifications constitute a difference of opinion pertaining to the merits of the project proposal.  

It is not the role of the Ombudsman to re-evaluate a project proposal. The role of the Ombudsman in such cases is to review whether the procedure followed the principles of good administration and that there was no manifest error of assessment.

Although you disagree with the Commission’s conclusions, there is nothing that would indicate that the Commission made a manifest error of assessment or a procedural mistake in this case. Particularly, while you correctly pointed out a mistake in the Commission’s reply to your review request, this does not call into question the Commission’s overall explanation how it evaluated criteria 1 and 5.

We consider that the Commissions’ decision is reasonable and that it addressed all the issues raised in your request for review. Based on this, we have decided to close this inquiry with the conclusion that there was no maladministration by the European Commission in this case.

  We understand that you may be disappointed by this decision, but we hope that the above explanations are nevertheless helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Tina Nilsson
Head of the Case-handling Unit

Strasbourg, 05/05/2022

 

[1] Call for proposals CONNECT-2020-5558924, Pilot Projects / Preparatory Action, Media freedom and investigative journalism, more information is available at: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/funding/call-proposals-media-freedom-and-investigative-journalism

[2] In particular, you said that the financial support to third parties should not be confused with the provision of practical support and training to journalists.

[3] Under point 1.1.3 (enabling activities), the proposal lists funding for “attending trainings or events”. Point 3.1 elaborates on specific training activities and 3.2 elaborates on three specific [web] events (webinars).