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Decision in case 1093/2016/JAP concerning the European Commission’s failure to reply to correspondence about problems with the submission of a grant proposal

The case concerned the Commission’s failure to reply to the complainant’s messages concerning its difficulties with the submission of a grant proposal. Due to technical problems, the complainant was not able to apply through the Commission’s system PRIAMOS. Instead, it submitted its proposal by e-mail, which remained unanswered.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and asked the Commission to reply. In its reply, the Commission apologised for not having replied earlier. It said that it could not accept the complainant’s e-mail application because the system had functioned properly and the Commission had not been able to identify any attempts by the complainant to send the proposal via PRIAMOS before the deadline.

The background to the complaint

1. The complainant, an Italian entity, took part in the Commission’s call for proposals JUST/2015/RRAC/AG Action grants to prevent and combat racism, xenophobia, homophobia and other forms of intolerance - RIGHTS, EQUALITY AND CITIZENSHIP/JUSTICE PROGRAMME (2014-2020) (the “Call”). The deadline for the submission of proposals expired on 18 February 2016 at noon. The Call foresaw that proposals could be submitted only through PRIAMOS, an on-line application system managed by the Commission’s DG Justice and Consumers.

2. Due to alleged technical problems with PRIAMOS, the complainant sent its proposal by e-mail. It drew the Commission’s attention to the technical problems. However, the Commission did not reply.

3.  On 4 July 2016, the Commission awarded grants in the Call but did not consider the complainant’s application.

The inquiry

4. The Ombudsman opened an inquiry concerning the Commission’s failure to reply to the complainant’s correspondence. The Ombudsman’s inquiry team has also looked into the issue that the Commission wrongly rejected the complainant’s e-mail application.

5. In the course of the inquiry, the Ombudsman’s inquiry team duly considered the information provided in the complaint. In particular, the inquiry team carried out a thorough analysis of the Commission’s reply to the complainant’s correspondence. The Ombudsman’s inquiry team asked the complainant for clarification and carried out its own research in relation to the matter complained about.

Allegation that the Commission failed to reply to correspondence

Arguments made by the complainant and the institution

6. The complainant provided copies of two e-mails explaining that his attempts to submit a proposal met with a “server temporary unavailable” response. In its reply of 2 September 2016, the Commission explained that it could not identify any attempts by the complainant to submit the proposal before the deadline in the system. It also confirmed that PRIAMOS had been fully operational on the last day for the submission of applications, that is, on the date on which, according to the complainant, it attempted to submit the proposal. Since PRIAMOS functioned properly and the Commission could not accept e-mail applications, it rejected the complainant’s proposal in order to maintain equal treatment of all applications. It also invited the complainant to participate in a new call for proposals (in a similar domain). Despite the Ombudsman’s invitation, the complainant did not submit any comments on the Commission’s reply.

The Ombudsman's assessment

7. As regards the procedural aspect of the case, the Commission has now replied to the complainant’s correspondence and apologised for not having answered earlier. Therefore, the Commission has settled this aspect of the complaint.

8. As regards the Commission’s substantive justification for the rejection of the complainant’s application, the Ombudsman finds it reasonable. Firstly, the Ombudsman notes that Point 7.1 of the Call (Procedure for submission of applications) states that “Applications must be submitted, in their entirety, through PRIAMOS. No applications (partial or entire) submitted on paper, fax or e-mail will be considered” (emphasis added by the Ombudsman). In this respect, the Commission advised applicants “not to wait until the last moment to register on the system and submit an application”. Moreover, the applicants were informed that “No extension of the deadline will be granted. No application will be accepted if the upload of the application package fails due to reasons which are beyond the Commission’s control”.

9. Secondly, there are no circumstances, which indicate that the technical difficulties with the submission of the complainant’s application through PRIAMOS were due to technical problems on the side of the Commission. The complaint file submitted to the Ombudsman did not contain any evidence of unavailability of PRIAMOS or its generated error messages. Consequently, the complainant did not justify that it needed to send an e-mail application after the deadline had passed. Nor did it submit any comments on the Commission’s explanation of reasons for rejection of the application.

10.  Against this background, the Ombudsman finds that there was no maladministration as regards the justification provided by the Commission for its rejection of the complainant’s proposal.

Conclusion

On the basis of the inquiry into this complaint, the case is closed with the following conclusions[1]:

The Commission has settled the procedural aspect of the complaint (failure to reply).

There was no maladministration as regards the justification provided by the Commission for its rejection of the complainant’s proposal.

The complainant and the Commission will be informed of this decision.

Strasbourg, 01/12/2016

Marta Hirsch-Ziembinska

Unit 1- Inquiries and ICT

 

[1] Information on the Ombudsman's review procedure can be found on the website.