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Decision on how the European Commission dealt with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the work of researchers participating in the EU-funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (joint cases 1242/2020/SF and 1380/2020/SF)

Thursday | 01 July 2021

The complaints concerned the European Commission’s decision not to extend funding for those carrying out research under the EU-funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Programme (MSCA) following the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the work of researchers. The complainants considered that the measures the Commission put in place to support MSCA researchers during the COVID-19 crisis were insufficient, as they would not enable them to continue their work.

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into how the Commission communicated with project partners that received grants under the MSCA, and the researchers carrying out the work for those project partners, about the measures they could take to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on their projects.

During the inquiry, the Ombudsman shared her preliminary findings with the Commission. In particular, the inquiry showed that, overall, the Commission had taken appropriate action to communicate the measures that could be taken to support researchers according to the applicable rules. However, as no solution had been found for the complainants, she urged the Commission to explore whether additional funding could exceptionally be awarded to the complainants and researchers in similarly difficult situations.

The Commission broadly accepted the Ombudsman’s preliminary findings but reiterated that, due to legal and financial constraints, it cannot provide any exceptional funding.

The Ombudsman appreciates the difficult situation faced by many MSCA researchers due to the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, she acknowledges the Commission’s commitment to find solutions within the applicable rules for those researchers impacted. While it is regrettable that a solution could not be found for the complainants and researchers in similar situations, the Ombudsman closed the case as further inquiries would not result in a more satisfactory outcome for the complainants. However, she made two suggestions for improvement.

Decision in case 1525/2020/MIG on how the European Commission dealt with a request for public access to documents concerning meetings between its President and industry representatives, including of a company developing a vaccine against COVID-19

Friday | 19 March 2021

The case concerned a request for public access to all documents related to five videoconferences the European Commission President held with industry representatives in spring 2020, including a meeting with a biopharmaceutical company developing a vaccine against COVID-19. The complainant was concerned that the Commission had not identified all documents falling under his request, and that it had granted him access to only part of one of the twelve documents it identified, namely a presentation by the biopharmaceutical company concerned.

In the context of Ombudsman's inquiry, the Commission identified three additional documents to which it granted wide access. While the Ombudsman expressed regret that the Commission had not originally identified these documents as falling under the complainant’s request, she now considers this matter to be settled.

Having inspected the presentation at issue, the Ombudsman considered that there is an overriding public interest in disclosure and proposed, as a solution, that the Commission grant wider public access. The Commission did not accept this solution, maintaining that the relevant information was commercially sensitive, the company concerned objected to its disclosure and there was no overriding public interest.

The Ombudsman expressed regret at the Commission’s decision. She acknowledged, however, that the Commission was unlikely to disclose the information in the face of the company’s objection. She also acknowledged that the Commission has since made greater efforts towards providing information on the negotiations with vaccines manufacturers. The Ombudsman closed the case, urging the Commission to see to it that transparency requirements form part of ongoing and future negotiations with companies where important public interests are at stake.