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Decision on how the European Commission involved stakeholders and managed conflicts of interest in reviewing the protection goals for assessing environmental risks of pesticides (case 1402/2020/TE)

Monday | 08 November 2021

The case concerned an ongoing review by the European Commission of the criteria for assessing environmental risks in pesticides, the ‘specific protection goals’. The complainant, an environmental organisation, was concerned with the method being proposed and alleged that there are conflicts of interest with the experts involved in devising this method.

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into one aspect of the complaint, which concerned the Commission’s selection of an expert in a stakeholder workshop that took place at the beginning of the review in September 2019. The Ombudsman noted that the Commission had not asked the expert in question to submit a declaration of interest ahead of this workshop.

The Ombudsman took the view that the Commission should have required the expert to submit a declaration of interest. This is because of the nature of the workshop, which concerned the implementation of EU legislation in a controversial area, the role of the expert therein and the fact that the expert was presented as being independent. The disclosure of any interests, which could give rise to a conflict of interest, is essential to ensure public trust in the policies that result from such processes and the legitimacy of such policies in the eyes of the public.

As the Commission asked the expert to submit a declaration of interest in the meantime, the Ombudsman does not see the need to pursue the matter further. Having said that, the Ombudsman expects that the Commission will require, assess and publish declarations of interest of experts invited in their personal capacity to similar future events, and she is making a suggestion to that effect.

The Ombudsman also examined the complainant’s claims regarding the substance of the declaration of interest, namely that it was incomplete and that the Commission did not assess it in order to identify any conflicts of interest. The Ombudsman found the Commission’s assessment to be reasonable. She thus closed the inquiry.

Decision on how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) handled a complaint about the English test in a staff selection procedure (case 1913/2020/MMO)

Thursday | 28 October 2021

The case concerned the assessment of the complainant’s English language skills in a selection procedure organised by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). The complainant failed the oral part of the English test but was not convinced by the reasons given by the contracted test provider and Frontex.

The Ombudsman found that Frontex’s procedure for dealing with review requests and administrative complaints in relation to the language knowledge assessment done by its contractor was largely fit for purpose. Specifically in this case, Frontex’s actions were reasonable. However, in order for the review procedure to be fully effective, the contractor would have to provide Frontex with sufficiently detailed information about its assessment to allow Frontex to detect, on the basis of the concerns put forward by a candidate, indications of substantive errors. The Ombudsman is not convinced that this is the case at present.

In order to avoid similar problems arising in the future, the Ombudsman made a suggestion for improvement and closed the inquiry.

Decision on how the European Commission handled concerns about the composition of the High Level Forum on Capital Markets Union and alleged conflicts of interest of some of its members (case 1777/2020/KR)

Wednesday | 27 October 2021

This complaint-based inquiry concerned the High Level Forum on the proposed EU Capital Markets Union, a Commission expert group. The Forum gathered senior industry executives and top international experts and scholars to develop new ideas on related policies for the Commission and, in 2020, produced a report with recommendations.

Following an extensive inspection of Commission documents and a meeting with the Commission as part of the inquiry, the Ombudsman identified two instances of maladministration:

1. A number of Forum members with links to financial institutions were considered by the Commission as being independent and representing the public interest. With the aim of mitigating the risks of conflicts of interest that the Commission had identified, it applied general measures. The Ombudsman carefully assessed these measures and deemed them to be insufficient.

2. Based on the flawed categorisation of Forum members, the Commission made public a split between Forum members that were supposed to be independent and Forum members that represented a common interest of different stakeholder organisations that deviated significantly from what it was in reality.

The Ombudsman issued a recommendation.

The Commission’s reply to the Ombudsman’s recommendation presented no new information and does not alter the inquiry findings.

The Ombudsman closes her inquiry by confirming her findings and recommendation.


Decision on how the European Commission dealt with a complaint that a winner of the EIC Horizon Prize on Blockchains for Social Good infringed intellectual property rights (case 1756/2020/VS)

Wednesday | 06 October 2021

The case concerned how the European Commission dealt with a complaint that one of the winners of the 2018 EIC Horizon Prize on Blockchains for Social Good infringed intellectual property rights.

The complainant contacted the Commission arguing that one of the winning entries was almost identical to a utility model, which the complainant owned. The complainant considered that the Commission did not investigate the concerns properly and therefore complained to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman found that, in the course of the inquiry, the Commission provided sufficient information about the actions it had taken in reaction to the complainant’s concerns and about its conclusion. The Ombudsman also found that the conclusion reached by the Commission, namely that the dispute should be settled by a court, is reasonable. The Ombudsman thus closed the inquiry finding no maladministration by the Commission. To ensure greater clarity in future, the Ombudsman encourages the Commission, in the context of future innovation contests and awards, to proactively inform contestants and other stakeholders of its approach to related intellectual property rights disputes.