Commission criticised by Ombudsman for delay in handling research contract (link)

October 13, 2004

Strasbourg, 12 Oct 2004

Decision of the European Ombudsman on complaint 100/2004/GG against the European Commission. Strasbourg, 5 October 2004
Full text

Complaint concerning project LIFE 99 ENV/D/000455.

The allegations made by the complainant in its complaint to the Ombudsman may be summarised as follows:

(1) The Commission was wrong to disregard the whole of the expenses made in respect of working packages 4 and 5 and to ask for the repayment of EUR 108 812,65;

(2) The Commission was wrong to set off the amount it wished to recover against another claim of the university clinic Freiburg;

(3) The Commission failed to make the final instalment of EUR 78 6,97 due under the project; and

(4) The Commission failed to handle the project properly.

THE DECISION

5 Conclusion

5.1 On the basis of the Ombudsman's inquiries into this complaint, there appears to have been no maladministration by the Commission as regards the substance of the Commission's decision on project LIFE 99 ENV/D/000455.

5.2 In so far as the handling of the project by the Commission is concerned, it is necessary to make the following critical remarks:

It is good administrative practice to deal with requests made by citizens without undue delay. On the basis of the evidence submitted to him, the Ombudsman concludes that the Commission lost or mislaid the complainant's request of 1 February 2002 for a prolongation of the project and only became aware of it more than four months after it had been submitted. This constitutes an instance of maladministration.

It is good administrative practice to deal with requests for payment rapidly and within the deadline foreseen for this purpose. In the present case, there was a delay of approximately three months between 18 March 2002 (when the deadline for dealing with the request for the interim payment expired) and 14 June 2002 (when the Commission was ready to pay the relevant amount). This constitutes a further instance of maladministration.

5.3 The aspects of the case referred to in the critical remarks relate to specific events in the past. The Ombudsman further notes that the Commission argued that the delays that occurred in relation to the interim payment and the request for a project prolongation could not be considered as having caused the technical failure of the project. The complainant did not contest this argument. In these circumstances, it is not appropriate to pursue a friendly settlement of the matter.

5.4 The Ombudsman therefore closes the case. The President of the European Commission will also be informed of this decision.

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