Lettori turn on EU Commission

October 1, 1999

More than 1,500 foreign language lecturers who claim job discrimination by Italian universities have complained to European ombudsman, Jacob Soderman, that poor administration and possibly foul play by the European Commission has weakened their case.

The commission, which last May brought the case against Italian universities on behalf of the lettori, is also on the receiving end of court action by the lecturers over its refusal to grant them access to key documents relating to their case.

In their submission to Mr Soderman the lecturers complained that the seriously weakened form in which their case was presented by the commission was due at best to poor administration and at worst to foul play by the commission which, it is suggested, may have acted in collusion with the Italian government.

The lettori claim the commission failed to inform them about the progress of the complaint and acted on false information from the Italian government, which could have been corrected if they had seen the documents.

Instead the commission dropped the issue of legal status from its original 1997 reasoned opinion and reduced its pleading on acquired rights.

A number of lecturers, some of whom were sacked by their rectors over three years ago, are also considering suing the commission for damages under non-contractual liability on the grounds that their sackings and hardships were the direct consequence of having followed the commission's advice.

Scottish Nationalist Party MEP, Neil MacCormick, a jurist and regius professor of public law and the law of nature and nations at the University of Edinburgh, has recently taken up the lecturers' case.

Professor MacCormick has been putting the new commission's commitment to openness, transparency and accountability to the test with questions in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on rendering the lecturers' rights effectual and properly enforcing the law.

Among others, he has targeted Italian commissioner and former Bocconi University rector Mario Monti, single market commissioner Frits Bolkestein and Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president of the Council of Ministers.

"David Petrie and the Association of Foreign Language Lecturers in Italy (ALLSI) have worked hard over the years," Professor MacCormick said. "Perhaps we now have sufficiently solid ground to get some purchase in shaming the commission and the Italian state into achieving a genuine and fair resolution of the issue."

Mr Petrie, chairman of ALLSI, said: "We are delighted to have the political vision of an internationally renowned jurist on our side.

"The European Commission and the Council of Ministers are going to find themselves under close scrutiny and my guess is that we are going to find out where the buck stops."

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