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Decision in case 1233/2019/MMO on how the European Commission ensures that Member State governments spend European Structural and Investment Funds in line with the obligations stemming from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Thursday | 30 July 2020

The case concerned the use of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI funds) for the construction of institutional care facilities for persons with disabilities in Hungary and Portugal. The complainant considered that the European Commission should have taken action on these projects, as it believed them to be at odds with the EU’s obligations to ensure people with disabilities are supported to live independently and to be included in the community.

The Ombudsman already had occasion, in the course of an earlier inquiry, to set out her views on the use of ESI funds on institutions rather than to promote independent living. The Ombudsman was encouraged by the Commission’s follow-up to her suggestions in that case, received in the course of this inquiry, and in particular the greater ambition it is showing for the 2021-27 programming period.

In this case, the Ombudsman finds that, as regards the first phase of the ‘deinstitutionalisation’ process in Hungary, the Commission has not acted in a sufficiently timely manner. Due to the lessons learnt in that phase, however, the Commission has shown greater caution as regards the use of ESI funds to continue the deinstitutionalisation process in that Member State. In the case of Portugal, the Ombudsman trusts that the Commission will act upon the findings and recommendations of the UN and the upcoming expert report in an effective manner.

On this basis, the Ombudsman closes the inquiry. She will now examine with the members of the European Network of Ombudsmen the need for further work in this area, in particular in light of the problems encountered in institutional care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also sets out three suggestions for improvement to address the issues identified in this case.  

Decision in case 231/2019/TE on the European Commission's refusal to give access to the initial version of an anti-dumping complaint

Tuesday | 14 July 2020

The case concerned the European Commission's refusal to give a Russian chemicals exporter a copy of an initial version of a complaint alleging that it and other companies were involved in illegal ‘dumping’ of mixtures of urea and ammonium nitrate into the EU. The Commission had given the complainant a copy of a consolidated non-confidential version of the complaint. However, the complainant argued that the refusal to give it a copy of the initial non-consolidated version of the complaint infringed its rights of defence.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that there was no breach of the complainant’s rights of defence. She also noted that, consistent with the Basic Anti-dumping Regulation, the complainant had been given access to a complete version of the complaint, containing all the information in the initial complaint, along with the information subsequently gathered by the Commission up until the moment the Commission initiated its investigation. There was therefore no maladministration by the Commission.

The Ombudsman notes that the present case has generated a degree of mistrust between the Commission and the complainant. As the entire content of the initial version of the complaint was also contained in the version provided to the complainant, releasing the initial version of the complaint could not have resulted in any confidential information being released. The Commission would thus not have infringed any rules by disclosing the initial version of the complaint to the complainant when requested. Such a simple step would have avoided a drawn-out and unnecessary dispute. The Ombudsman invites the Commission to consider disclosing such material in future, similar cases.