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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 38/2021/PL on the possibility to deselect answers in multiple-choice question tests organised by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO)

Monday | 10 May 2021

The complainant, a candidate in a selection procedure for EU staff, appeared to have left unanswered one question in a multiple-choice question tests organised by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). EPSO said that she had deselected her initial response. The complainant questioned whether this was even technically possible, as it is not possible in the sample tests available online.

The Ombudsman inspected the technical log for the complainant’s test and found that she had indeed deselected her initial answer. EPSO said that deselecting answers is possible in all test, but not in the sample test, in which it would add a disclaimer about the matter. The Ombudsman thus closes the inquiry with a finding of no maladministration.

Decision in case 1991/2019/KR on the European Commission’s action concerning sustainability assessment for gas projects on the current List of Projects of Common Interest

Tuesday | 17 November 2020

The case concerned the inclusion of gas projects on the EU’s 2019 list of Projects of Common Interest (PCIs).These are cross-border energy infrastructure projects that should help achieve EU energy and climate policy objectives. The complainant was concerned that the sustainability of gas projects on that PCI list had not been satisfactorily assessed, as is required.

The Commission had already acknowledged that the sustainability assessment of candidate gas projects had been suboptimal due to a lack of data and inadequate methodologies. In the course of the inquiry, the Commission informed the Ombudsman that it is updating the criterion used for assessing the sustainability of projects that are candidates for inclusion on the next PCI list, which it will draw up in 2021.

Among other things, this update is expected to take into account the CO2 and methane balance, as well as efficiency impacts, in the assessment of projects. The indicator is expected to reflect the infrastructure’s expected impact on the overall greenhouse gas intensity of energy production in a given EU Member State and the emissions related to the functioning of the infrastructure itself.

The Ombudsman welcomes the fact that the Commission will ensure that this update is in place before the decision is taken on the next PCI list. The adoption date for the next PCI list is foreseen in the last quarter of 2021.

Given the EU’s objectives concerning climate change and sustainability, it is regrettable that gas projects were included on previous PCI lists, without having their sustainability properly assessed. This meant that it was not possible to rank them to identify the most sustainable ones. However, the Commission is taking the necessary action with the result that no further inquiries of the Ombudsman are justified at this point.


Decision in case 563/2020/MMO on the non-renewal of an employment contract with the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol)

Wednesday | 28 October 2020

The case concerned the non-renewal of the complainant’s employment contract after he had worked for 11 years at Europol.

The Ombudsman noted that there is no obligation on EU agencies to renew fixed-term employment contracts. EU agencies also enjoy wide discretion as regards their internal organisation, which includes defining the conditions for contract renewal. In this case, Europol followed the applicable rules and there is no indication that it committed a manifest error of assessment nor that it abused its power by not renewing the complainant’s contract.

The Ombudsman closed the inquiry finding no maladministration.