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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)

Četvrtak | 01 srpnja 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 2067/2020/MIG on the European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s (Frontex) handling of multiple requests for public access to documents made by a single applicant

Srijeda | 16 lipnja 2021

The case concerned how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) handled multiple requests for public access to documents made by a single applicant. Frontex considered that the scope of the complainant’s multiple requests, which had been made in close temporal proximity, was too extensive to be processed in parallel. It therefore proposed, as a fair solution, to put them in a queue and process them in turn. The complainant did not agree to this approach.

The Ombudsman noted that it was not clear how extensive the scope of the complainant’s requests was and how much work it would entail to assess whether the documents concerned can be released. She proposed that Frontex should immediately recommence processing the complainant’s access requests, beginning with the most urgent one, as indicated by the complainant during the inquiry. She also proposed that Frontex provide the complainant with a list of all documents at issue to enable him to determine the priority of each request.

Frontex accepted the Ombudsman’s proposal and provided the complainant with a reply to the indicated access request shortly thereafter.

The Ombudsman welcomed Frontex’s response to her proposal for a solution and closed the case, calling on Frontex to make every effort to ensure that the complainant’s access requests are now dealt with quickly. The Ombudsman also encourages Frontex, in an effort to avoid delays, to improve its communication with applicants when attempting to find a fair solution on how to process extensive requests.

Decision in case 154/2020/DL on how the Research Executive Agency dealt with a recruitment procedure carried out in the context of an EU-funded project under the Horizon 2020 programme

Ponedjeljak | 09 studenoga 2020

The case concerned a recruitment procedure organised by the University of Ljubljana as part of an EU-funded project, under the Horizon 2020 programme. The complainant claimed that irregularities occurred in the recruitment procedure, and reported this to the Research Executive Agency (REA), which is responsible for the implementation of the programme. Dissatisfied with how REA dealt with his complaint, he turned to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman found that REA investigated the issue and advised the university on steps to take to address certain shortcomings it had identified. The university followed REA’s advice.

The Ombudsman therefore found that REA dealt appropriately with the matter and closed the case, finding no maladministration.