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Decision on the European Commission’s decision to recover grants paid under EU funded projects carried out by a national police authority (case 1733/2020/LM)

Pondělí | 11 října 2021

The complainant, a national police force, received two grants from the European Commission for projects to fight transnational crime, which it carried out successfully. Following audits of the projects, the Commission found that a big part of the costs were ineligible mainly due to the lack of supporting documents. The Commission therefore decided to recover a considerable part of the grants. The complainant turned to the Ombudsman arguing that the decision was disproportionate and that the Commission had not shown flexibility. The complainant considered that the Commission should have allowed it more time to send additional supporting documents and that it should have done another audit.

The Ombudsman found that it was reasonable for the Commission to conclude that the complainant had violated its contractual obligations under the ‘grant agreement’. The Commission had acted in accordance with EU financial rules and given the complainant ample opportunity to provide comments and submit additional supporting documents as proof of the costs it claimed. The Commission had also shown flexibility by agreeing to review supporting documents submitted late. The Ombudsman thus closed the inquiry with a finding of no maladministration.

Decision in case 616/2020/DL on how the European Commission dealt with a contractor that had not paid its consultants

Středa | 19 května 2021

The complainant worked as an expert for an external contractor to the EU Delegation to Ghana. Not having been paid for her work, the complainant turned to the Ombudsman, claiming that the EU Delegation had failed to ensure that the external contractor respects its obligations towards the experts.

The Ombudsman found that both the EU Delegation and the European Commission had acted in accordance with the applicable rules when withholding some payments under the contract. She also found that they had taken appropriate action vis-a-vis the contractor to try to resolve the situation that affected the complainant. The Ombudsman considers that the Commission has adequate mechanisms in place to monitor contractors, and she trusts the Commission will use these mechanisms to monitor the situation and to take action within its remit if needed.

The Ombudsman therefore closed the case with a finding of no maladministration.

Decision of the European Ombudsman in case OI/1/2020/LM on the European External Action Service´s decision (EEAS) not to pay a severance grant to a retired staff member of the EU Delegation to Algeria

Pátek | 29 ledna 2021

The complaint concerned the European External Action Service’s (EEAS) decision not to pay a severance grant to a locally hired staff member in the EU Delegation to Algeria. The Delegation had supported paying the grant, arguing that this had been the practice based on an administrative note.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that the staff member had no ‘legitimate expectation’, in the legal sense, to receive a severance grant. She thus closed the case with a finding of no-maladministration. The Ombudsman pointed out, however, that it was regrettable that the EEAS had failed to ensure clear and consistent communication to staff about the rules applying to the individuals in question. This lack of clarity left the staff member concerned with an incorrect understanding of the situation. As the EEAS is phasing out the relevant staff category, the Ombudsman will not pursue this matter. She trusts, however, that the EEAS will, in the meantime, ensure that the employment conditions applicable to the individuals in question are clarified.

Decision in case 154/2020/DL on how the Research Executive Agency dealt with a recruitment procedure carried out in the context of an EU-funded project under the Horizon 2020 programme

Pondělí | 09 listopadu 2020

The case concerned a recruitment procedure organised by the University of Ljubljana as part of an EU-funded project, under the Horizon 2020 programme. The complainant claimed that irregularities occurred in the recruitment procedure, and reported this to the Research Executive Agency (REA), which is responsible for the implementation of the programme. Dissatisfied with how REA dealt with his complaint, he turned to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman found that REA investigated the issue and advised the university on steps to take to address certain shortcomings it had identified. The university followed REA’s advice.

The Ombudsman therefore found that REA dealt appropriately with the matter and closed the case, finding no maladministration.

Decision in case 2218/2019/MDC on the Research Executive Agency’s decision to consider ineligible certain costs claimed by a partner in an EU-funded project on the interoperability of unmanned vehicles (DARIUS)

Středa | 16 září 2020

The case concerned the decision of the Research Executive Agency (REA) to consider ineligible certain costs claimed in the context of a project that was co-funded by the EU: the DARIUS project on the interoperability of unmanned vehicles in search and rescue operations.

The complainant considered that the REA had acted in a contradictory and inconsistent manner, and should not have deemed the costs ineligible. It raised various concerns about the findings of the audit on which that decision was based .

The Ombudsman found that the REA acted reasonably and in line with the grant agreement. She therefore closed the inquiry with a finding of no maladministration.

Decision in case 1878/2019/LM on how the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) dealt with a complaint from a participant in the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme

Čtvrtek | 02 července 2020

The complainant, a young Italian entrepreneur, participated in an exchange with a more experienced entrepreneur in Germany in the context of the ‘Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme’ set up by the EU Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME). The exchange was terminated early. The complainant considered that EASME had failed to monitor the exchange and he wished to be compensated financially. EASME allowed the complainant another exchange for the remaining period, but it did not grant him any financial compensation.

The Ombudsman found that EASME had investigated the case diligently and that its decision not to pay compensation was in accordance with the rules governing the programmes. The Ombudsman therefore closed the inquiry with a finding of no maladministration. The Ombudsman made a suggestion for improvement to EASME for the purpose of ensuring that the entrepreneurs involved are duly informed of the intention to terminate an exchange early.

Decision in case 2084/2018/NH on how the European External Action Service and its mediation service handled a complaint from a staff member about alleged harassment

Středa | 22 dubna 2020

The case concerned how the EEAS handled an e-mail with harassment allegations, sent to its Mediation Service by a staff member in an EU Delegation. In the course of the Ombudsman’s inquiry, the EEAS explained how the Mediation Service had dealt with the complainant’s concerns and why the file had been closed.

The Ombudsman found that the explanations given by the EEAS were reasonable. The EEAS Mediation Service handled the complainant’s harassment claim in an informal way, in line with its mandate. The Ombudsman closed the inquiry with the finding that there was no maladministration by the EEAS.

Decision in case 1698/2019/MDC on procedural shortcomings in an audit managed by the Research Executive Agency

Pondělí | 20 dubna 2020

The case concerned the decision of the Research Executive Agency (REA) to recover funds from a company, following an audit of its work on two EU-funded projects. The complainant considered that the audit should be declared null and void due to procedural flaws and the fact the process had taken over four years.

The Ombudsman found that the REA’s failure to abide by the deadline set out in the grant agreement for issuing the final audit report was regrettable. However, in spite of the REA’s delay in issuing the final audit report, the complainant had been able to contest effectively the findings of the audit. Moreover, the REA had engaged in a second, exceptional revision of the audit report. This resulted in a reduction of 85% in the amount of funds the REA was seeking to recover.

As the REA acknowledged its failure to abide by the deadline set out in the grant agreement, apologised for the delay in this case and also took steps to seek to avoid similar problems in future, the Ombudsman closed the case.

Decision in case 699/2019/AMF on how the EU Delegation to Algeria handled the contract termination of an expert in an EU-funded project

Středa | 25 března 2020

The complainant worked as an expert for an external contractor of the EU Delegation to Algeria. The purpose of the contract was to provide technical assistance to the Algerian authorities in the context of an EU funded programme in the transport area. The Delegation asked that the complainant be replaced, with the result that the external contractor terminated his contract on the same day. The complainant turned to the Ombudsman arguing that the Delegation had not heard him before requesting his replacement.

While there may have been no legal obligation for the Delegation to hear the complainant, the Ombudsman has consistently taken the view that individuals whom the institutions ask to be replaced should be heard before they are dismissed. In this case, the Delegation did not do enough to reassure itself, after it had made its request, that the complainant had been heard. While this is regrettable, the Ombudsman notes that the complainant had been made aware of the issues, during the project. The Ombudsman further notes improvements that have been introduced in the meantime that should avoid similar incidents in the future. On this basis, she closes the case.