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Decision of the European Ombudsman in joint inquiry 853/2020/KR on the European Commission’s decision to award a contract to BlackRock Investment Management to carry out a study on integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives into EU banking rules

Lunes | 23 noviembre 2020

The case concerns the European Commission's decision to award to BlackRock Investment Management a contract to carry out a study on integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives into EU banking rules. The Ombudsman opened an inquiry after receiving complaints from MEPs and a coalition of civil society organisations. The inquiry assessed how the Commission evaluated the company’s offer in the context of the call for tenders for carrying out the study.

The Ombudsman found that the company’s offer gave rise to concerns. First, if a bidder has a direct or indirect financial interest in developments in a market, because it invests in that market, or manages investments in that market, there is a clear risk that those interests may influence the outcome of its work in its own favour. This applies to the company in question. Second, because of the weighting applied by the Commission in its evaluation, the low price the company offered optimised its chances of securing the contract. Winning the contract may enable the company to gain insights and assert influence over a growing investment area of major and increasing relevance to its clients and therefore to the company itself.

The Ombudsman agrees that there are legitimate concerns around the risk of conflicts of interest that could negatively impact the performance of the contract as the company manifestly has an interest in the development of future EU regulation that will impact on itself and on its clients. She concluded that the Commission should have been more rigorous, and brought a wider perspective to bear, as it moved to verify, in compliance with the rules, that the company was not subject to a conflict of interest that may negatively affect the company’s ability to execute the contract. However, not doing so does not meet the threshold of maladministration, given the limitations of EU rules on awarding contracts in such situations on the Commission staff awarding the contract.

The Ombudsman suggests that the Commission updates its guidelines for public procurement procedures for policy-related service contracts, giving clarity to staff as to when to exclude bidders due to conflicts of interest that may negatively affect the performance of the contract. The Ombudsman also suggests the Commission reflect on whether a specific update to the applicable rules is also required to make them more relevant to the EU’s current policy ambitions. The EU is planning a period of unprecedented levels of spending and investment, which will necessarily involve significant linkages with the private sector.

This Decision will also be forwarded to EU legislators. It is a matter for the legislators to agree the legal underpinning of the ‘green transition’ including the appropriate manner in which its development and rollout is influenced.

Decision in case 670/2019/PL on the European Investment Bank’s refusal to disclose an expert report on whether Svans are indigenous people

Miércoles | 15 julio 2020

The case concerned the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) refusal to grant public access to an expert report on whether Svans, an ethnic minority that live in the Svaneti region of Georgia, are indigenous people.

The Ombudsman found that the report largely contained information of a historical, geographical or anthropological nature. The Ombudsman therefore made a proposal for a solution asking the EIB to disclose at least this objective information in the report.

The EIB accepted the Ombudsman’s proposal for a solution and granted the complainant partial access to those parts of the document that contain objective information.

The Ombudsman welcomed the EIB’s positive response to her proposal for a solution and closed the inquiry.