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Decision in case 306/2018/JAP concerning how the European Commission dealt with an audit of three EU-funded projects

Mardi | 26 novembre 2019

The complainant took part in three EU-funded projects in the context of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. Its complaint to the Ombudsman concerned how the European Commission dealt with an audit of the expenditure claimed in the context of the projects.

The auditors found that the complainant’s time-recording system was unreliable. They asked the complainant to provide alternative evidence to substantiate the costs for personnel and other actions. The complainant submitted a number of documents to prove the costs incurred in the projects. However, the Commission rejected them as unreliable and, according to the complainant, decided to recover more than EUR 225 000.

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into how the Commission dealt with the audit, and its decision to recover funds. Her inquiry team met with the Commission’s representatives and inspected its file.

The Ombudsman found that the Commission took the complainant’s allegation that the audit was badly conducted seriously, investigated the matter and assessed the alternative evidence provided.

While the Ombudsman recognises the Commission’s duty to safeguard the financial interests of the EU and acknowledges its efforts to obtain alternative evidence from the complainant, she was not convinced that, by rejecting the personnel costs in full, the Commission had adopted a fair or proportionate approach. Since the Commission, on three separate occasions, rejected a request to consider at least a partial waiver of the recovery, the Ombudsman concluded that further inquiries were unlikely to serve any purpose. She makes a suggestion for improvement to seek to avoid similar cases occurring in future.

Decision in case 1161/2018/MIG on the Research Executive Agency's decision not to accept for EU funding under the 7th Framework Programme for Research a company owner’s full remuneration

Jeudi | 31 octobre 2019

The case concerned the EU’s financial contribution to a project on European medical support during major emergencies. The EU Research Executive Agency (REA) rejected, as ineligible for funding, part of the remuneration paid to the owner of the company that took part in the project. REA considered that, as the owner did not receive a salary, his work on the project must be reimbursed using a flat rate amount. As there was a disagreement over whether the owner’s remuneration constituted a ‘salary’, the Ombudsman inquired into the matter.

The Ombudsman found that it was reasonable for REA to consider that the owner did not receive a salary and thus to apply the flat rate. She closed the case finding no maladministration.

Decision in case 2134/2018/FP on the European Commission’s refusal to give public access to briefing material used by its President in a meeting with the President of the United States

Mardi | 15 octobre 2019

The case concerned a refusal by the European Commission to provide the complainant with copies of briefing material (“flash cards”) on trade policy used by the President of the European Commission, Mr Juncker, in a meeting with the President of the United States.

In its first response to the complainant, the Commission argued that disclosing the briefing material would undermine international relations. When the complainant challenged that response, the Commission argued that because the “flash cards” were ‘short-lived’ support material the EU rules on public access to documents did not apply to them. The complainant then turned to the Ombudsman.

After a considerable and unjustified delay, the Commission informed the Ombudsman that it no longer held copies of the ”flash cards”. It would appear that, at some point in the time during this appeal process, the briefing material, or any copy in the possession of the Commission, was deleted or otherwise destroyed.

The Ombudsman finds that the failure of the Commission to retain in its possession copies of the briefing material after the complainant had exercised his fundamental right of access to documents, but before the appeal process had been completed, was maladministration. This failure also limited the Ombudsman’s ability to conduct an inquiry into the Commission’s refusal to grant public access to the requested documents.

Decision in case 383/2019/MMO on how the European Medicines Agency evaluated a tender to carry out efficacy and safety studies on medicines

Vendredi | 27 septembre 2019

The case concerned how the European Medicines Agency (EMA) evaluated a tender for a contract to carry out efficacy and safety studies on medicines. The complainant claimed that EMA unfairly concluded that its consortium would not be in a position to complete studies within the foreseen timeframe. The complainant also contended that EMA did not give the consortium the opportunity to clarify its tender, which it had done with other tenderers. 

The Ombudsman found that EMA had been justified in not requesting clarifications about the complainant’s tender, and had not treated it unfairly.

The Ombudsman thus closed the inquiry finding no maladministration.

Decision in case 1388/2018/MH on the European Commission’s decision to recover part of the funds granted for a project on drug policy

Vendredi | 30 août 2019

The complaint concerns the European Commission’s decision to recover part of the funds granted for an EU project on drug policy. The complainant, a Greek non-profit association, disagreed with the finding that certain costs relating to the work carried out by its president were ineligible.

The Ombudsman inquired into whether the Commission’s decision was fair and reasonable. From a legal perspective, the complainant had not adhered to some of the rules. The auditors had therefore initially proposed to recover all the costs relating to the president’s work. Nonetheless, the Commission reached a fair and just solution for the complainant, and considered some of the president’s costs eligible, based on the ‘best value for money’ principle. Accordingly, it reduced the recovery amount considerably.

The Ombudsman therefore closes the case finding no maladministration.

Decision in case 732/2019/MIG on the European Commission’s refusal of public access to e-mail correspondence with a publisher

Mardi | 27 août 2019

The case concerned a request for public access to e-mail exchanges between the Commission and an open access publisher. The publisher objected to the disclosure of the requested documents. During the Ombudsman’s inquiry, it withdrew its objection. The Commission then granted wide public access to the documents, redacting only personal data.

The complainant agreed that the redaction of personal data was justified. In that context, the Ombudsman closes the inquiry.

Decision in case 1152/2018/JN on the fairness of the Research Executive Agency’s decision to recover funds

Jeudi | 22 août 2019

The case concerned the Research Executive Agency’s decision to recover a part of its financial contribution to a project in the area of crisis management. The complainant, who represents a company having participated in the project, argued that the decision was unfair in its respect.

The Ombudsman re-examined the decision in the context of the case and found no maladministration.

Decision in case 1541/2018/JN on the Research Executive Agency’s refusal to provide full access to documents related to its assessment of an EU-funded project

Mercredi | 14 août 2019

The case concerned the Research Executive Agency’s handling of several requests for access to documents made in the context of its assessment of an EU-funded project. The complainant, who represents a consortium having participated in the project, was dissatisfied that the Agency disclosed only redacted versions of the documents and criticised the Agency’s procedural conduct.

The Ombudsman found that the Agency’s handling of the requests was satisfactory both as regards the procedural aspects and the justification provided for partial disclosure only.

Decision in case 1375/2018/PB on the European Commission’s interpretation of ‘productive hours’ for the reimbursement of personnel costs incurred in projects under the 7th Framework Programme (FP7)

Mercredi | 29 mai 2019

The case concerned the calculation of costs financed under the EU’s 7th Framework Programme for research (FP7).

The European Commission audited three projects for which the complainant, a German research institute, had received FP7 funding. It made no findings of any deliberate wrongdoing by the complainant, but concluded that the complainant should repay some of the funds because it had used a calculation method for indirect costs that included costs that were not related to the FP7 funded projects.

The complainant thought it had applied a legitimate calculation method, and therefore asked the Ombudsman to examine the matter.

The Ombudsman found that there was no maladministration by the Commission, and she closed the inquiry.