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Decision of the European Ombudsman closing the inquiry into complaint 1339/2014/DK against the European Parliament

The case concerned the complainant's exclusion by the European Parliament from a selection procedure for research administrators.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and inspected the file held by Parliament.

On the basis of the information obtained during the inspection, the Ombudsman did not find maladministration by Parliament.

The background to the complaint

1. The complaint concerns the rejection of an application to work as a 'Research Administrator' at the European Parliament[1].

2. In June 2014, Parliament informed the complainant that he did not obtain enough points in the selection process and that his application was thus rejected. The complainant then submitted a request for review to Parliament to challenge his exclusion from the selection procedure.

3. In reply, Parliament informed the complainant that the selection panel had re-examined his application and as a result, decided to increase his mark to 2 points for one question. However, even this new score was not high enough to allow him to be included amongst the successful candidates.

4. The complainant then submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman.

The inquiry

5. The Ombudsman is conscious of the wide margin of discretion enjoyed by selection boards (panels) in evaluating candidates' qualifications and their professional experience. A selection board's evaluations are open to review only if there has been a manifest error of assessment. However, given the limited information provided to candidates following a selection procedure, it can be difficult for a disappointed candidate to show that there was a manifest error in his or her case. In these circumstances the Ombudsman decided that the most appropriate action in this case was to carry out an inspection of the file held by Parliament.

6. After the inspection has taken place, the Ombudsman decided that there was no need to ask Parliament to submit an opinion in writing for reasons explained below.

Allegation that the selection panel made a manifest error in its assessment

Arguments presented to the Ombudsman

7. In his complaint, the complainant argued that the selection panel had made a manifest error in assessing his answers to the following questions:

Question 1. Do you have a postgraduate degree in one or more of the following areas: political science, economics, European studies, public administration, law, social science, international relations, natural science, statistics, history?

8. The complainant pointed out that he has a PhD degree and a Master's Degree in Business Administration from high ranking Universities. It was therefore hard for him to understand why he was awarded only one point for this question. He wondered what exactly differentiates him from candidates who had obtained 2, 3 or 4 points.

Question 3. Do you possess a doctorate in one or more of the fields mentioned in question 1?

9. The complainant considered that the award of only 1 point was manifestly wrong since he had a PhD degree in Molecular Genetics and Bioinformatics from a top ranking European University.

Question 6. Have you ever published articles in national/international peer-reviewed journals in one or more of the fields mentioned in question 1?

10. The complainant pointed out that even though the Thomson Reuters database credits him with an H-index[2] 6, and the Google Scholar database credits him with an H-Index 7 for his 22 publications, he obtained only 2 points for this question. At the same time, one of his students, who also applied to the same selection procedure, and who has an H-Index 2 for just 6 publications, was awarded 3 points under this question. The complainant considered that this was manifestly wrong.

Question 8. Do you have experience in drafting documents (reports, notes, articles, etc.)?

11. The complainant pointed out that he has written a large number of scientific, financial reports and press releases, and also published a significant number of peer-reviewed scientific publications. Despite this, he received only two points.

Question 9. Do you have experience in drafting documents (reports, notes, articles, etc.) in German, English or French?

12. The complainant pointed out that most of his publications were written in English, yet he received only 1 point.

The Ombudsman's assessment

13. It is necessary to take account of the following considerations as regards the revision of decisions by selection boards (panels) in selection procedures.

14. Selection boards enjoy wide discretionary powers in determining whether the qualifications and professional experience of candidates correspond to the level required by the Staff Regulations and the notice of competition itself[3]. The position taken by a 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[4]. The terms of the notice of competition constitute both the legal framework of the selection boards' proceedings and the assessment framework for its evaluation of the candidates[5].

15. 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]. In other words, it is the notice of competition (or the Call in the present case) that provides candidates with information in respect of the profiles sought by the institutions and constitutes both the legal framework of the selection panel's proceedings and the assessment framework for its evaluation of candidates. Consequently, selection boards cannot apply conditions which are not in the notice of competition and should give the terms of that notice their ordinary and natural meaning and their interpretation of the notice should not diverge from that of an attentive candidate[7].

16. It is also important to have regard to the provisions of the Call[8] that are relevant in the present case.

17. Point IV (Eligibility) of the Call, under specific conditions, provided that candidates should, as regards the required qualifications and work experience, have an "officially recognised diploma corresponding to completed university studies of at least three years' duration in one of the following areas: political science, economics, European studies, public administration, law, social sciences, international relations, natural sciences, statistics, history; and at least three (3) years' professional experience relevant to the job description." As regards the required languages, the same point provided that candidates must have a thorough knowledge of one of the European Union's official languages and a very good knowledge of English, French or German.

18. As regards the selection procedure, point VI of the Call provided that the selection procedure would include selection on the basis of qualifications and an assessment of candidates' detailed answers to the questionnaire included in the application form. It further provided that candidates would be assessed on the basis of the following criteria:

1. possession of a postgraduate diploma in one or more of the following areas: political science, economics, European studies, public administration, law, social sciences, international relations, natural sciences, statistics, history;

2. more than three years' professional experience in an area relevant to the job description;

3. possession of a doctorate in a subject related to: political science, economics, European studies, public administration, law, social sciences, international relations, natural sciences, statistics, history;

4. professional experience as a researcher in a national or European think tank;

5. professional experience as a researcher in a European Union institution or body or in a public-sector body in a Member State of the European Union;

6. authorship of articles published in peer-reviewed national/international periodicals on a topic related to one or more of the areas listed under point 3. above;

7. authorship of a book on a topic related to one or more of the areas listed under point 3. above;

8. experience of drafting documents (reports, notes, articles, etc.);

9. experience of drafting documents (reports, notes, articles, etc.) in English, French or German.

19. The Call then explained that the selection panel would apply a weighting of between 1 and 3 to each question in the questionnaire, and award 0 to 4 points for each of the detailed answers. The final mark will be obtained by multiplying the points awarded for each answer by the weighting for the relevant question.

20. In addition, in its reply of 19 June 2014 acknowledging receipt of the complainant's request for review, Parliament explained that the selection panel determined, by means of a pre-defined evaluation grid, which qualifications were the most relevant for the purposes of this selection procedure.

21. During the inspection, the Ombudsman's services carefully examined the evaluation grid established by the selection panel and received a detailed explanation of it. The Ombudsman's services also examined the complainant's 9 answers given in the questionnaire, as well as the weighting and scores allocated by the selection panel. Finally, the Ombudsman services also obtained copies of the applications of the 53 candidates whose names were included in the database of successful candidates, together with the selection panel's evaluations.

22. In the Ombudsman's view, the detailed comments of the selection panel as regards the complainant's answers to questions 1, 3, 6, 8 and 9 do not reveal any manifest error of assessment[9]. In this context, it should be noted that the evaluation grid of the selection panel was, in the Ombudsman's view, sufficiently detailed to reflect, even in a relatively narrow scale of 0-4 points, the possible differences in the candidates' qualifications and professional experience. In fact, it established that a minimum score is given for a candidate who meets the qualifications and professional experience required in the Call, thereby allowing additional points to be given if a candidate had further diplomas and more extensive professional experience.

23. As regards the complainant's specific grievances, the Ombudsman notes the following.

24. The complainant considered that it was manifestly wrong by the selection panel to award him only 2 points for question 1[10] , given that he has a PhD degree and a Master's Degree in in Business Administration from high ranking Universities. The Ombudsman notes that the selection panel reviewed its initial decision to award only 1 point under this question further to the complainant's request for review. Referring to the comparative assessment that the selection panel carries out in respect of the candidates' merits, the Ombudsman finds no manifest error in assessment given that the complainant received half of the available points under this question.

25. The complainant considered that he should have been awarded more than 1 point for question 3[11] as he had a PhD degree in Molecular Genetics and Bioinformatics. The Ombudsman notes that the selection panel correctly considered that the complainant had a PhD in the relevant areas, otherwise he would not have been awarded any point. However, in the Ombudsman's view, it is within the margin of discretion of the selection panel to consider, for example, that the PhD of the complainant was not as relevant to the work of Parliament as the PhDs of other candidates. In these circumstances, the Ombudsman does not find a manifest error of assessment by the selection panel.

26. The complainant also considered that it was manifestly wrong that the selection panel awarded him only 2 points for question 6[12] given that he has a higher H-index than one of his students participating in the same selection procedure who received 3 points. The Ombudsman notes in this context that the H-index is a method to measure the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar by calculating the number of citations of that particular author. However, the selection panel had to assess the relevance of candidates' publications to the research work of Parliament, and to do that on a comparative basis. The frequency of publications or their relevance to a broader research and academic community would not be a factor in this assessment. In these circumstances, the Ombudsman does not find a manifest error of assessment by the selection panel.

27. The complainant further considered that having written a large number of scientific, financial, press release and local reports, and published a significant number of peer-reviewed scientific publications, it was manifestly wrong that the selection panel awarded him only two points for question 8[13]. Referring again to the comparative assessment that the selection panel carries out in respect of the candidates' merits, the Ombudsman finds no manifest error in assessment. First, the complainant received half of the available points under this question. Second, while the complainant published a large number of purely scientific articles, these did not have direct link with European policies, and thus were not as relevant to the work of Parliament as were the publications of other candidates. In these circumstances, the Ombudsman does not find a manifest error of assessment by the selection panel.

28. Finally, the complainant considered that it was manifestly wrong for the selection panel to have awarded him only 1 point for question 9[14] given that most of his publications were written in English. The Ombudsman has checked the complainant's original application and notes that, in his application he did not explicitly state that his publications were in English. The selection panel could make its evaluation only on the basis of the information provided in his initial application. Thus, the selection panel did not err when it awarded him only one point. The fact that the complainant stated, in his request for review and in his complaint to the Ombudsman, that his publications were mainly in English, is not something which could be taken into account by a selection panel since a selection panel is legally required to take account of the information submitted in the original application only. A request for review is not a means by which a person can correct or complete an application. A request for review is simply a means to require the selection panel to look again at the information originally submitted in order to check if any error was made in the assessment of that information.

29. In these circumstances, the Ombudsman finds no maladministration by Parliament.


Conclusion

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

The Ombudsman finds no maladministration by Parliament.

The complainant and Parliament will be informed of this decision.

Emily O'Reilly

Strasbourg, 03/03/2016

 

[1] Published in OJ 2014 C 55 A, p.1

[2] The H-index (or Hirsch-index) is an author-level metric that attempts to measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar. The index is based on the set of the scientist's most cited papers and the number of citations that they have received in other publications. The index can also be applied to the productivity and impact of a scholarly journal as well as a group of scientists, such as a department or university or country.

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

[4] Case F-4/08, Hambura v Parliament, [2009] ECR-SC I-A-101 and II-A-447, paragraph 24

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

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

[7] Case 255/78, Andrée Anselme and Roger Constant v Commission, [1979] ECR-2323, paragraphs 9-10.

[8] Full text available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:C2014/055A/01&from=EN

[9] It should be noted that the complainant's mark for question 1 has been modified further to his request for review.

[10] "Do you have a postgraduate degree in one or more of the following areas: political science, economics, European studies, public administration, law, social science, international relations, natural science, statistics, history?"

[11] "Do you possess a doctorate in one or more of the fields [mentioned in question 1]?"

[12] "Have you ever published articles in national/international peer-reviewed journals in one or more of the fields [mentioned in question 1]?"

[13] "Do you have experience in drafting documents (reports, notes, articles, etc.)?"

[14] "Do you have experience in drafting documents (reports, notes, articles, etc.) in German, English or French?"