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Decision of the European Ombudsman on complaint 500/99/ADB against the European Commission

Strasbourg, 23 September 1999

Dear Mr W.,
On 6 May 1999, you lodged a complaint with the European Ombudsman concerning the procedure for the reimbursement of travel expenses for experts working with the European Commission.
On 20 May 1999, I forwarded the complaint to the President of the European Commission. The European Commission sent its opinion on 29 July 1999 and I forwarded it to you with an invitation to make observations, if you so wished. I received your observations on 18 August 1999.
I am writing now to let you know the results of the inquiries that have been made.


The complainant is regularly invited by the European Commission, as an expert, to attend meetings in Brussels. The Commission reimburses his travel expenses, however he considers the procedure to be excessively long. He for instance had to wait for seven and a half months for a reimbursement. In this context the complainant got in touch with officials of the Commission and with Members of the European Parliament to express his dissatisfaction. He even refused to participate in a meeting because of this problem.
With regard to the fact that the complainant was repeatedly told that the delays were inherent in the "system", he held that this should be reformed and asked the European Ombudsman to investigate the matter.


The Commission's opinion
The opinion of the European Commission on the complaint is in summary the following:
The objective of the Commission's services is to reimburse travel expenses to experts participating in meetings organised by the Commission within 60 days. During this period of time, the Directorate General (DG) organising the meeting shall gather the expert's bank identity. DG IX shall then fix the amounts to be reimbursed, and ask for the payment, which is to be authorised by DG XX and carried out by DG XIX.
The Commission undertook to replace its computerised accounting system with a new one (Sincom 2) by the end of 1998. This major change, which is meant to accelerate the reimbursement procedure, lead to some problems and delays which were finally solved in march 1999 but which may have affected the dealing with the complainant's file. Moreover, the Commission stressed that the delays suffered by the complainant were increased by the fact that he failed to provide essential information in due time.
However, the Commission regretted the inconvenience and expressed its determination to avoid similar situations.
The complainant's observations
The European Ombudsman forwarded the European Commission's opinion to the complainant with an invitation to make observations. In his reply of 18 August 1999, the complainant expressed his satisfaction with the work of the European Ombudsman. Further, he welcomed the efforts made by the Commission to improve the reimbursement system, stressing that his complaint with the Ombudsman aimed at pointing out a general problem, without focusing on his particular case.
The complainant, however, rejected the allegations made by the Commission regarding his being late in handing in information necessary for the reimbursement. He claimed that he had in good faith, and without any objection of the Commission's officials, followed the procedure applicable under the old reimbursement system. Later he was informed that the procedure had changed and he was requested to provide information again, which he promptly did. The complainant considers therefore that the full responsibility for the delay lies with the Commission.


1 The delays in the reimbursement of travel expenses
1.1 The complainant, an expert who is occasionally invited by the Commission to attend meetings organised in Brussels, complained against the Commission because of the delays in the reimbursement of travel expenses. He wished to see an improvement of the reimbursement system. The Commission declared that it is committed to improving the system and that the delays that occurred in the complaint's case are precisely attributable to difficulties occurred while a new system was being set up.
1.2 The Ombudsman notes that the Commission committed itself to carrying out reimbursements of travel expenses within a period of 60 days and that it apologised for the inconvenience caused by the setting up of a new, more efficient, accounting system.
1.3 The complainant has expressed his satisfaction with the Commission's efforts to improve its reimbursement procedure, and informed the Ombudsman that the specific case of late payment mentioned in his original complaint was only meant to be an example of the malfunctioning of the system. Therefore the Ombudsman considers that there is no need to investigate the matter any further.
2 Conclusion
It appears from the European Commission's opinion and the complainant's observations that the Commission has taken steps to settle the matter and has thereby satisfied the complainant. The Ombudsman has therefore decided to close the case.
The President of the European Commission will also be informed of this decision.
Yours sincerely