You have a complaint against an EU institution or body?

Available languages:
  • ENEnglish

Decision of the European Ombudsman closing the inquiry into complaint 1018/2012/DK against the European Personnel Selection Office

The case concerned the exclusion of the complainant from a staff selection competition for archivists, on the basis that he did not have sufficient relevant professional experience. The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that the decision of the Selection Board, not to accept the complainant's professional experience acquired as an auditor and record keeper in a private library as relevant to the field of archivists, did not amount to a manifest error of assessment. The Ombudsman did not uphold the complaint.

The background to the complaint

1. In 2011, the complainant participated in an Open Competition for the selection of staff in the field of archivists[1]. The complainant obtained the required pass mark in the admission tests, but the Selection Board did not admit him to the next stage of the competition as it had found that he did not have sufficient relevant professional experience in archivistics or document management. The complainant submitted a request for review. When his request was rejected, he turned to the Ombudsman.

The subject matter of the inquiry

2. The complainant alleged that EPSO wrongly rejected his candidature on the basis that he does not have sufficient relevant professional experience.

3. The complainant claimed that EPSO should re-examine his professional experience and readmit him to the competition.

The inquiry

4. The Ombudsman forwarded the complaint to EPSO for its opinion. After receiving EPSO's opinion, the Ombudsman forwarded it to the complainant with an invitation to submit observations. The complainant did not submit observations.

Allegation that EPSO wrongly rejected the complainant's candidature on the basis of insufficient relevant professional experience

Arguments presented to the Ombudsman

5. The complainant argued that EPSO's position was wrong because he holds the necessary qualifications and professional experience, because he had worked in document preservation at a private library for 6.5 years. The complainant felt that having worked in the private sector disqualified him in the eyes of the Selection Board, which was against the equal opportunities principle promoted by the EU.

6. In its opinion, EPSO first referred to the following case-law of the Union courts: The Selection Board enjoys wide discretionary powers in determining whether the qualifications and professional experience of a candidate correspond to the level required by the Staff Regulations and the Notice of Competition[2]. The decision of the Selection Board is open to review only if the exercise of that discretion has been vitiated by a manifest error in law or in fact[3]. The terms of the Notice of Competition constitute both the legal framework of the Selection Board's proceedings and the assessment framework for its evaluation of the candidates[4]. While the Selection Board cannot apply conditions which are not included in the Notice of Competition, it should indeed specify the scope of the conditions set out therein. It should give the terms of the Notice of Competition their ordinary and natural meaning, interpreting them pursuant to the objective and the wording of the text. The Selection Board's interpretation of the Notice of Competition should not diverge from the understanding to which a candidate who has read it attentively can reasonably be led[5]. Furthermore, the admission requirements set out in the Notice of Competition should be interpreted in line with the purpose of the competition, which follows from the description of the duties relevant to the posts to be filled. Consequently, the part of the Notice of Competition describing the nature of the duties and the part concerning the admission requirements must be considered together[6]. Finally, the discretionary powers of the Selection Board also extend to deciding whether or not the supporting documents presented by a candidate constitute sufficient proof that he or she possesses the required qualifications or professional experience.

7. As regards the present case, EPSO pointed out that the complainant supplied different information in his on-line application to EPSO than in his complaint to the Ombudsman. In the latter, he stated that he worked at a private library in "document preservation". However, in his online application submitted to EPSO, he stated that he worked at a private library as an "auditor and record keeper", where his main duties were "exercising monthly audits, liaising with senior management as to the outcome of audits, introducing and maintaining filing system staff training in using ECR (electronic cash register), creating and updating EPOS user guide, dealing with queries from financial department".

8. In light of the above-mentioned case-law of the Union courts, and the complainant's submissions made in his application to EPSO, EPSO submitted that the Selection Board did not commit a manifest error in assessing the complainant's professional experience.

The Ombudsman's assessment

9. The Ombudsman notes that EPSO correctly stated that the review of a Selection Board's decision is limited to verifying whether it was vitiated by a manifest error of assessment. EPSO also correctly stated that a Selection Board enjoys wide discretionary powers as regards the qualifications and professional experience of a candidate and whether or not the supporting documents presented in these regards constitute sufficient proof. It is also correct to state that the wording of the Notice of Competition constitutes the legal framework of the Selection Board's proceedings, thus the Selection Board is bound by it, and its provisions describing the nature of the duties must be considered together with and the part concerning the admission requirements.

10. In the present case, the Notice of Competition provided that the profile sought was "archivistics" and required candidates to have "at least 3 years' professional experience in archivistics or document management" It described the following tasks as expected to be performed by the officials recruited:

- assisting and advising the Commission on all aspects of archiving policy and its relationship with more general policy on document management,

- leading a team of archivists,

- managing projects in the fields of archivistics, document management, externalisation of archiving activities, acquisition and publication of sources and preservation of electronic documents,

- coordinating the production and updating of filing plans, inventories and other archiving tools,

- defining description standards (metadata and more comprehensive descriptions) of digital documents, in accordance with the standards laid down by the International Council on Archives,

- helping to ensure the authenticity and long-term preservation of documents, specifically in an electronic environment,

- helping to organise technical training for staff responsible for archive management,

- following up the processing of requests for information from within the institutions and from external researchers,

- managing relations with researchers or any other external entity requesting information,

- monitoring public procurement activities relating to information/communication and drawing up specifications and other technical documents in the same field.

11. In its opinion, EPSO pointed out that, contrary to his statement made in his complaint to the Ombudsman that he worked "in document preservation" at a private library for 6.5 years, the complainant indicated in his on-line application that he worked there as "an auditor and record keeper", where his main duties were "exercising monthly audits, liaising with senior management as to the outcome of audits, introducing and maintaining filing system, staff training in using ECR (electronic cash register), creating and updating EPOS user guide, dealing with queries from financial department".

12. In this context, the Ombudsman points out that candidates are solely responsible for providing EPSO with the most accurate information possible in their applications for open competitions, and that, by validating their applications, candidates confirm that the information provided in them is valid and accurate.

13. The Ombudsman further notes that the Selection Board rejected the complainant's professional experience as not sufficiently relevant, which indicates that the Selection Board did not consider the complainant's professional experience obtained at the private library to be equivalent to archiving or to document management within the meaning of the notice of competition.

14. In view of the clearly distinct professions of an auditor and of an archivist, and in particular the duties carried out by the complainant during his work at the private library and the duties as set out in the Notice of Competition, the Ombudsman finds that the Selection Board's decision not to accept the complainant's professional experience as sufficiently relevant is not vitiated by a manifest error of assessment.

15. The Ombudsman therefore finds no maladministration by EPSO as regards the present complaint. 

Conclusion

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

The Ombudsman finds no maladministration by EPSO.

The complainant and EPSO will be informed of this decision.

 

Emily O'Reilly

Done in Strasbourg on 1 August 2014

[1] EPSO/AST/112/10 - EPSO/AD/227/11 - Archivists (AD6), OJ 2011 C271, p. 1.

[2] Case T-332/01, Pujals Gomis v Commission,[2002] ECR-SC I-A 233, paragraphs 39-41.

[3] Case F-4/08, Hambura v Parliament, [2009] ECR-SC I‑A‑1‑0000 and II‑A‑1‑0000,  paragraph 24.

[4]  Case T-80/96, Fernandes Leite Mateus v Council, [1997] ECR-SC- I-A 87, paragraph 27.

[5] Case T-255/78, Heirwegh & Constant v Commission, [1979] ECR 1979-02323, paragraph 9-10.

[6] Case T‑146/99 Teixeira Neves v Court of Justice [2000] ECR‑SC I‑A‑159 and II‑731, paragraph 34-36.