• Depunerea unei plângeri
  • Solicitare de informaţii
60th Rome Treaty anniversaryEuropa ta - Portalul serviciilor publice europene şi naţionale on-line

Decision in case 1607/2016/CEC on how the European Commission dealt with correspondence about an organisation that was excluded from projects under the ‘Youth in Action’ Programme

limbi disponibile :  en.nl
  • Caz :  1607/2016/CEC
    Deschis la 16.01.2018 - Decizie din 16.01.2018
  • Instituţia (instituţiile) în cauză :  Comisia Europeană

The complainant contacted the European Commission following a decision to exclude his organisation from the EU-funded ‘Youth in Action’ Programme by the national managing partner, the Dutch National Agency for Youth (the Agency). The complainant was dissatisfied with the Commission’s replies and turned to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that the replies provided by the Commission to the complainant were clear and adequate. The Ombudsman thus concluded that there was no maladministration by the Commission and closed the case.

The background to the complaint

1. The complainant is the director of a Dutch organisation, which received a grant for European Voluntary Service (EVS)[1] projects under the ‘Youth in Action’ Programme[2]. In the Netherlands, the programme was managed by the Dutch National Agency for Youth (’the Agency’). The complainant has been in a dispute with the Agency since 2012 concerning (i) his exclusion from EVS projects[3] that he had developed and (ii) the Agency’s withdrawal of a grant that it had previously awarded to him.

2. On 1 March 2013, the complainant submitted a complaint to the European Commission concerning a recovery order[4] the Agency had issued against his organisation. In particular, he asked the Commission to inform him how he could obtain information from the Agency in order to be able to formulate a clear and concrete complaint. He further asked the Commission to explain the complaints procedure in a clear and concrete manner. He stated that the grounds the Agency gave for excluding his organisation from the Youth in Action Programme were unclear.

3. On 4 April 2013, the complainant sent another letter to the Commission describing the serious personal consequences for him resulting from the exclusion of his organisation from the programme. He also raised separate concerns about some organisations participating in the Erasmus programme in the Netherlands[5]. He asked the Commission “to take his case seriously” and to exert pressure on the Agency to cooperate.

4. On 8 April 2013, the Commission replied to the complainant’s first letter. It informed him that, as a beneficiary of a grant, he had a contractual relationship with the Agency. It stated that, if he considered that the Agency had infringed the provisions of the ‘grant agreement’ and the Programme Guide, he was entitled to submit a complaint. It explained that he should ask the Agency directly for access to its files, and that the Agency would have to provide him with the requested information within a reasonable time. The Commission informed him that, should he conclude that the Agency had wrongly excluded his organisation, he could then submit a formal complaint to the Commission.

5. On 28 April 2013, the Commission replied to the complainant’s second letter. It stated that it could not find a connection between his concerns about participants in the Erasmus Programme and the cancellation of the EVS projects by the Agency.

6. On 28 February 2014, the complainant sent an e-mail to the Commission. He stated that the Dutch Ombudsman was currently dealing with his case, and that it was clear that the Commission was involved in the case. He asked for a meeting with the Commission. He stated that he was preparing a lawsuit, but that he would await the response of the Dutch Ombudsman.

7. On the same day, the Dutch Ombudsman informed the complainant that it had asked the Agency to consider cancelling the recovery order it had issued against his organisation and that the Agency was now considering this. The Dutch Ombudsman thereby ceased its involvement in the case.

8. On 3 March 2014, the Commission explained to the complainant that it is the Agency that implements the former Youth in Action Programme and the current Erasmus+ Programme. It therefore advised him to contact the Agency directly for any further questions or explanations.

9. On 5 March 2014, the complainant replied to the Commission. He again asked for a meeting. He stated that he could not accept the actions of the Agency.

10. The Commission responded on the same day, reiterating its advice to contact the Agency directly. It stated that it could not have direct contact with former beneficiaries of grants managed by national agencies.

11. On 17 April 2014, the complainant sent an e-mail to the Commission stating that the Agency had not followed the Dutch Ombudsman’s advice. He stated that he was awaiting the Commission’s reaction and that he would take legal action soon. No further correspondence between the Commission and the complainant took place at that stage.

12. On 12 April 2016, the complainant sent an e-mail to the Commission expressing disappointment that the Commission had not answered a specific question and again criticising how the Agency had wrongfully (in his view) excluded his organisation from the EVS projects.

13. On 13 April 2016, the complainant sent an e-mail to the Commission asking how he could contact the Agency in a situation where it had excluded his organisation from projects he had developed.

14. On the same day, the Commission replied to the complainant stating that it had already replied to his letter about his dispute with the Agency in 2013. It stated that the projects concerned no longer existed, and that the matter was therefore closed. It stated that it could not devote any more resources to discussing the issue with him.

15. On 17 October 2016, the complainant turned to the European Ombudsman.

The inquiry

16. The European Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the complaint that the Commission had failed to respond in substance to his questions about what had happened to the projects in which his organisation had been involved under the Youth in Action Programme.

17. In the course of the inquiry, the Ombudsman received subsequent correspondence between the complainant and the Commission. The Ombudsman's decision takes into account the arguments and views put forward by the parties.

Arguments made by the complainant and the institution

18. The complainant claims that the Commission failed to properly respond to his questions about the exclusion of his organisation from the EVS projects by the Agency.

19. The Commission stated that the Agency was responsible for carrying out the Youth in Action Programme. The Commission pointed out that it could not have direct contact with former beneficiaries of grants managed by national agencies. It had therefore advised the complainant to contact the Agency directly.

20. After the Ombudsman had opened her inquiry, the complainant re-established contact with the Commission and claimed that it had been responsible for his organisation’s exclusion from the EVS projects. The Commission replied and reiterated that it was the responsibility of national agencies to implement the Youth in Action Programme. It stated that, as such, any disputes between participating organisations are the responsibility of the national judicial authorities. The complainant again replied, claiming that the Commission was not responding to his questions.

The European Ombudsman's assessment

21. The Ombudsman’s inquiry focused on the complainant’s concern that the Commission had failed to provide him with a substantive reply concerning his organisation’s exclusion from the EVS projects, and what had happened to the projects after his organisation had been excluded from them by the Agency. In further correspondence, the complainant also claimed that the Commission was involved in the decision to exclude him from these projects and should compensate him for the damage he suffered.

22. The Ombudsman understands that the complainant finds himself in a difficult situation after his organisation was excluded from the EVS projects.  However, the Ombudsman’s focus is on how the Commission handled the correspondence with the complainant.

23. The Ombudsman notes that the Commission was correct to state that, according to the rules on the Youth in Action Programme, it is for the participating countries to monitor the national agencies in the implementation of the Programme actions at national level. Moreover, according to the Programme Guide of 2012, “[The] National Agencies promote and implement the Programme at national level and act as the link between the European Commission, promoters at national, regional and local level, and the young people themselves. It is their task to: (...) evaluate and monitor the implementation of the Programme (...).”The Commission on the other hand “guides and monitors the general implementation, follow-up and evaluation of the Programme at European level and bears overall responsibility for the supervision and coordination of the National Agencies”. It also “manages the budget, sets priorities, targets and criteria for the Programme on an ongoing basis[6].

24. By referring the complainant to the Agency for information on the EVS projects that are managed by the Agency, and ultimately to the national courts in case of a dispute, the Commission provided a clear and reasonable reply to the complainant’s correspondence, to the effect that the dispute should be solved rather at national level than at EU level. The complainant then turned to the Dutch Ombudsman who concluded that the Agency should consider waiving the claim it had on the complainant. Moreover, the complainant informed the Commission that he is preparing legal action in the Dutch courts on the matter.

25. The Ombudsman finds that the replies provided by the Commission to the complainant were clear and adequate. Thus, the Ombudsman finds no maladministration in this case.

Conclusion

On the basis of the inquiry into this complaint, the Ombudsman closes it with the following conclusion:

There was no maladministration by the European Commission.

The complainant and the European Commission will be informed of this decision.

 

Emily O'Reilly

European Ombudsman

Strasbourg, 16/01/2018

Final English version of the decision on complaint 1607/2016/CEC

 

 

[1] The EVS enables young people to carry out voluntary service for up to 12 months in a country other than their country of residence. More information on the EVS: https://europa.eu/youth/EU/Voluntary-activities/european-voluntary-service_en

[2] The Youth in Action Programme, which ran from 2007 to 2013, promoted mobility, non-formal learning, intercultural dialogue and inclusion, primarily among people aged 13-30. It supported youth workers and civil society organisations through training and networking. Since 2014, Erasmus+ - the new EU programme for education, training, youth and sport - continues to offer similar opportunities in the areas of youth and non-formal learning. See: https://ec.europa.eu/youth/success-stories/youth-in-action_en

[3] The reference numbers of the projects concerned are: NL-21-3-2012-R1, NL-21-17-2012-R1, NL-21-37-2012-R2, NL-21-4-2012-R1.

[4] By which it sought to recover funds that had been paid to the organisation.

[5] The Erasmus Programme was an exchange programme for students in third level education. It has been succeeded by the Erasmus+ Programme https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/node_en.

[6] See the Programme Guide of 2012: http://ec.europa.eu/assets/eac/youth/tools/documents/programme-guide-2012_en.pdf