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A recovery procedure concerning allegedly overpaid allowances and an insulting message sent to the complainant

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  • Case: 882/2009/VL
    Opened on 14 May 2009 - Recommendation on 19 Jul 2011 - Decision on 07 Nov 2012
  • Institution(s) concerned: European Commission
  • Field(s) of law: General, financial and institutional matters
  • Types of maladministration alleged – (i) breach of, or (ii) breach of duties relating to: Lawfulness (incorrect application of substantive and/or procedural rules) [Article 4 ECGAB],Fairness [Article 11 ECGAB],Courtesy [Article 12 ECGAB]
  • Subject matter(s): Competition and selection procedures (including trainees),Administration and Staff Regulations
teddy bear and money
Copyright: Stocklib © Anke StÃÂppel

Summary of the decision on complaint 882/2009/VL against the European Commission

The complainant is divorced from her ex-husband, who was employed as a temporary agent of the European Commission in Luxembourg. The complainant and her ex-husband have two children, of whom the complainant has custody. The Commission paid the complainant the household allowance, dependent child allowance, and education allowance in the name and on behalf of her ex-husband.

In 2008, the complainant's ex-husband informed the Commission that his ex-wife and his children no longer lived in Germany, but had moved to Bulgaria over a year earlier. This meant that the Commission had paid higher sums in family allowances than were due, since the allowances were subject to a geographical weighting based on the cost of living. The complainant informed the Commission that she was still resident in Germany, as were her children. However, the institution was not convinced that this was so and initiated a recovery procedure against her for the allegedly overpaid allowances.

The complainant turned to the European Ombudsman, who opened an inquiry. In the course of the inquiry, a Commission official inadvertently sent the ex-husband an e-mail containing appalling and vulgar language that was not only offensive to him but also to the complainant. The complainant submitted this issue to the Ombudsman and he decided that the evident insult to the complainant merited being included in his inquiry.

In the course of the Ombudsman's investigations, the Commission acknowledged that it had wrongly applied the rules concerning the recovery of allegedly overpaid family allowances as far as the complainant was concerned. However, even though the Commission had apologised to the complainant for the insulting e-mail, the Ombudsman considered that its reaction was, in both form and substance, not commensurate with the maladministration that had occurred. He therefore addressed a draft recommendation to the Commission. Moreover, the Ombudsman alluded to the possibility that the use of the unacceptable language in the e-mail concerned might well have been an indication of a wider problem within the Commission's services.

In its detailed opinion, the Commission presented a letter of apology sent to the complainant by the Director of the service concerned and offered to make a payment of EUR 500 in order to compensate the complainant for the moral damages she endured. Moreover, the Commission organised a series of internal training sessions to emphasise the importance of ethics and of a culture of service towards EU citizens. Even though the complainant chose not to accept the Commission's offer to compensate her for her moral damages, the Ombudsman concluded that the Commission had taken adequate steps of an individual as well as a general nature to implement his draft recommendation.