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Decision in case 1512/2015/PD on the European Commission’s recovery of funds relating to several EU-funded projects

Tuesday | 03 April 2018

The case concerned the European Commission’s decision to recover sums paid out as grants under various EU-funded projects. The decision was taken following audits carried out by an auditor on behalf of the Commission. The complainant disagreed with the audit findings. Amongst other things, the complainant wanted the audits to be reviewed by the national chamber of auditors in its Member State. The Commission did not consider this necessary.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that there was no maladministration by the Commission.

Decision in case 947/2016/JN on the Commission’s handling of the complainant’s Facebook enquiry

Monday | 24 July 2017

This case arose from the failure of the European Commission Representation in Croatia to reply to an information request made on Facebook and the fact that it blocked the complainant on its Facebook page. The complainant had asked if the Head of Representation in Croatia was a former member of the communist party of Yugoslavia.

Since the Commission has now unblocked its Facebook page and replied, the Ombudsman finds that the Commission has settled these aspects of the case. The Ombudsman further finds that the Commission committed no maladministration by not disclosing the requested information because it constituted protected personal data.

However, the Ombudsman makes a suggestion for improvement about the need for replies to citizens communicating with the Commission on social media. The Commission should take into account the fact that the right to a reply, guaranteed by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the principles of good administration, as provided for in the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, applies to communications received via social media, subject only to  limitations justified under the principle of proportionality. The Commission should take this into account in revising its Information Providers Guide and in any other relevant work.

Decision in case OI/14/2015/ZA concerning a selection procedure for a post at the EU Delegation to Albania

Monday | 10 July 2017

The case concerned a selection procedure for a post at the EU Delegation to Albania. The complainant was unhappy at not having been shortlisted for the post, as she believed that she fulfilled all the required criteria. She requested information on her application and the reasons why she was not the shortlisted. The Delegation failed to reply to her request in a timely manner.

The Ombudsman inquired into the matter. In the course of the inquiry, the Delegation replied to the complaint, thereby resolving this aspect of the complaint. As regards the decision not to shortlist the complainant, the Ombudsman found the Delegation’s explanation of its decision to be reasonable and closed the inquiry with a finding of no maladministration. The Ombudsman suggested that the European External Action Service should give guidance to Delegations on the need to keep candidates informed where selection competitions have been delayed. The Ombudsman also suggested that the European External Action Service should include, in the ‘EU Delegations’ Guide for Local Agents’, more detailed requirements regarding the type of information to be included in the list/excel spreadsheet drawn up by selection committees.

Decision in case 1102/2016/JN on the Commission’s failure to reply to correspondence and to fully disclose a document

Friday | 13 January 2017

The case concerned the Commission’s failure to reply to the complainant’s correspondence in the context of a financial audit at the Member State level. Following the Ombudsman’s intervention, the Commission replied. It disclosed the document requested by the complainant but redacted some personal data (names of physical persons). The Ombudsman found that the Commission correctly justified the redaction under Regulation 45/2001.

Decision in case 739/2016/JAP concerning the European Union Intellectual Property Office’s refusal to grant access to a downloadable version of its case law database

Wednesday | 11 January 2017

The case concerned the handling of a request for information as how to obtain a downloadable version of a case law database held by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (‘EUIPO’). The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and asked EUIPO to better explain its reasons why it could not comply with the request. The EUIPO’s explanation was accurate and reasonable. Thus, the case was closed with the finding of no maladministration.

Access to documents

Thursday | 27 October 2016

Decision in case 726/2016/PMC concerning the Council of the European Union paying trainees an amount less than the minimum wage

Thursday | 29 September 2016

A former trainee at the Council of the European Union complained that the allowance paid by EU institutions to its trainees is inappropriate, as it is below the minimum wage and thus does not guarantee trainees a decent standard of living.

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the matter. She found that the Council had explained in a sufficiently detailed way how the amount of the traineeship allowance is determined. The Ombudsman found that the decision to pay an allowance, equivalent to 25% of the salary of an official at the AD5.1 grade, wasreasonable. The Council took this decision acting within the margin of its discretion, based on its administrative needs and the available budget.

The Ombudsman noted that the Council distinguishes between traineeships and employment. Therefore, a trainee receives an allowance and not a salary, because the rights and obligations of a trainee are not comparable to those of a member of staff. The Ombudsman considered the Council’s explanation to be reasonable.

Therefore, she closed the case with the finding that the Council’s practice did not constitute maladministration.

Decision in case 18/2016/ZA on the European Central Bank’s failure to reply adequately to request for information

Tuesday | 27 September 2016

The case concerned the European Central Bank’s (ECB) failure to reply adequately to the complainant's request for information concerning the ECB's competence to ensure the enforcement of financial regulation and consumer protection legislation in Member-States. The Ombudsman asked the ECB to provide the complainant with a detailed answer concerning its supervisory role vis a vis the national central banks, but also the role of the Single Supervisory Mechanism in supervising private entities. The ECB replied in a clear and comprehensive manner. The Ombudsman therefore decided to close the case.

GRACE project

Tuesday | 06 September 2016

Decision of the European Ombudsman on complaint 437/2015/ZA concerning alleged conflicts of interest in a project on GMO risk assessment financed by the European Commission

Thursday | 28 July 2016

The case concerned the EU funded research project on GMO risk assessment (known as GRACE). The complainant, a Germany-based research institute, alleged that a number of scientists involved in the GRACE project were in a conflict of interest situation because of their alleged relations with the biotech industry. It claimed that the European Commission had failed to address the complainant´s concerns about the scientific soundness of the project's results and the independence of the related scientific publication. The complainant also claimed that the Commission had failed to ensure the objectivity and independence of the project, in particular full transparency with respect to the experts involved in its selection.

The Ombudsman inquired into the case. She agreed with the Commission that it should not interfere in the scientific interpretation or the publication process of scientific studies it funds. The Ombudsman also concluded that the mere fact that there are links between the scientists involved in the project and the industry does not prove a conflict of interest. The Ombudsman pointed out that the Commission often funds projects carried out either by industry or by groups with close links to industry. Nevertheless, the Ombudsman suggested that the Commission should consider sending the complainant a fuller and more thorough explanation of why it takes the view that the links between industry and the GRACE scientists do not create conflict of interest situation.

The Ombudsman also found that the Commission had complied with all legal provisions concerning publication of the names of expert evaluators involved in the selection of the projects funded under the Seventh Framework Programme. With a view to further enhancing transparency and facilitating public scrutiny, the Ombudsman suggested that, in future, the Commission should publish the names of expert evaluators by breakdowns that would correspond to the topic and/or area categories of the Seventh Framework Programme. The Ombudsman also suggested that the evaluators’ declarations of interest should be published as well.

Decision of the European Ombudsman closing the inquiry into complaint 356/2014/KM against the European Central Bank (ECB)

Tuesday | 09 February 2016

The case concerned a complaint that the European Central Bank did not, as some central banks had done in the past, publish a scoreboard on compliance by Eurozone Member States with the so-called "convergence criteria". The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that the ECB is not obliged to publish such an overview, given, in particular, that Member States are now called upon to comply with different criteria. She also found that the ECB and the European Commission publish relevant and accessible statistical information on market surveillance. There was therefore no maladministration.

Decision in case 1133/2014/JAS on the European Parliament's handling of a request for information concerning a selection procedure

Thursday | 14 January 2016

The case concerned the European Parliament's alleged failure to provide the complainant with the assessment grid and with the specific reasons for the points awarded to him in a selection procedure.

Given that the Civil Service Tribunal has ruled, in a recent judgment, that selection boards do not need to give candidates the corrected version of their tests, the reasons why replies were erroneous, or the evaluation grids used for the written and oral tests, the Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the complaint to allow Parliament to comment on the relevance of the Tribunal's findings on its recruitment proceedings.

Parliament argued that its reasons for refusing to provide the complainant with the requested information were supported by the Civil Service Tribunal's judgment. It nevertheless provided the complainant with the reasons why he was awarded a certain number of points for certain answers.

The Ombudsman found that Parliament acted reasonably and therefore closed the inquiry with a finding of no maladministration.

Decision in case 1171/2013/TN on the work of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on the EU rules on flight and duty time limitations and rest requirements for commercial airline transport

Thursday | 05 November 2015

The complaint, which was submitted by the British Air Line Pilots' Association, relates to the EU rules on flight and duty time limitations and rest requirements for commercial airlines. More specifically, it concerns the manner in which EASA had conducted its process to update these rules. The complainant contended (i) that scientific advice should have had a more prominent role in the rulemaking process; (ii) that EASA had failed to provide evidence of the qualifications of the members of the rulemaking group; and (iii) that EASA did not deal adequately with conflict of interest issues.

The Ombudsman found no maladministration by EASA as regards the role of scientific advice in the rulemaking process. As regards the issue of how EASA manages possible conflicts of interest in the rulemaking groups, the Ombudsman found that its policy for mitigating such conflicts in the case of its own staff had been changed and that this revised approach is now being applied also to experts in the rulemaking groups. On this basis the Ombudsman concluded that she did not have to inquire further into that issue. Finally, EASA accepted the Ombudsman's recommendation to provide the complainant with anonymised information about the members of the rulemaking group. The Ombudsman therefore closed the case, encouraging EASA to adopt a more proactive approach to disclosing information available to it about the qualifications and expertise of members of the rulemaking group. She also flagged that she is considering looking into issues related to the work done by external experts for certain EU agencies.

Decision in case 2004/2013/PMC on the European Commission's handling of an access to documents request relating to the surveillance of the internet by UK intelligence services

Thursday | 05 November 2015

The case concerned the Commission's refusal to grant public access to documents concerning the surveillance of the internet by UK intelligence services. The Ombudsman recommended that the Commission should grant access to one specific document (a letter from the UK Foreign Secretary' to the then Vice-President of the Commission) and, in the case of the other documents requested, that the Commission should either disclose them or properly justify why, in its view, disclosure had to be refused.

The Commission decided to disclose the UK Foreign Secretary's letter, thus accepting the first part of the Ombudsman's recommendation. However, it maintained its position not to disclose the other documents. It justified this position on the basis that it was still investigating the question of whether the UK's mass surveillance programmes violate EU law, in particular regarding the individual's right to data protection. The Commission argued that until its investigation is definitively closed, early disclosure of the remainder of the documents concerned would affect negatively the dialogue between the UK authorities and the Commission. More generally, it argued that its capacity to conduct its investigation effectively, and to decide on the appropriate response, should be protected from the risk of external pressure. Finally, the Commission did not consider that there was an overriding public interest in disclosure.

The Ombudsman is not persuaded that the Commission has adequately justified its decision to refuse public access to the remaining undisclosed documents. As it has neither disclosed these documents nor provided adequate reasons for refusing public access to them, it is clear that the Commission has rejected the Ombudsman's recommendation in relation to these documents. Furthermore, the Ombudsman notes that the Commission appears not to have taken any action as regards its investigation since 2013. The Ombudsman finds, therefore, that the Commission's actions in this case amount to maladministration and, in fact, to serious maladministration given the importance of the particular issue for EU citizens.