Ombudsman criticises Research DG for requiring a person undergoing an oral test to use a language he had not chosen and for delay in replying to his appeal

April 5, 2002

Strasbourg, 4 April 2002

Decision of the European Ombudsman on complaint 69/2001/BB against the European Commission. Strasbourg, 25 March 2002. Text

The complainant applied for the selection procedure COM/R/A/01/1999 and passed the written tests. He was invited to the oral test. At the beginning of the oral test of the selection procedure COM/R/A/01/1999 the Selection Committee informed him that parts of the texts of the oral test were not available in Swedish, only in English. Therefore, he was not able to reply in Swedish which he had chosen as his second language in the selection procedure COM/R/A/01/1999. Furthermore, he was told that it would be better to write his summary in English as the members of the Selection Committee did not understand Finnish (main language of the complainant). The complainant alleges an instance of discrimination against citizens originating from small Member States.

Furthermore, the complainant claims that the Chairman of the Selection Committee has not replied to his letter of appeal sent on 8 August 2000...

THE DECISION

1 Alleged discrimination regarding the choice of second language in the oral test

1.1 According to the complaint, the Selection Committee informed the complainant at the beginning of the oral test of the selection procedure COM/R/A/01/1999 that parts of the texts of the oral test were not available in Swedish, only in English. Therefore, he was not able to reply in Swedish which he had chosen as his second language in the selection procedure COM/R/A/01/1999. Furthermore, he was told that it would be better to write his summary in English as the members of the Selection Committee did not understand Finnish (first language of the complainant). The complainant alleges an instance of discrimination against citizens originating from small Member States.

1.2 The Commission explained that at the first stage the complainant had the possibility to rely on simultaneous interpretation during the entire interview in order for the Selection Committee to evaluate his skills and to guarantee equal treatment to all candidates. This was acknowledged also by the complainant. Furthermore, the notice of selection did not mention which language the complainant should chose for the third stage for his written summary. The complainant confirmed that he was not required to choose English for the third stage.

1.3 According to the Commission, the scientific text at the second stage, which the complainant was supposed to summarise did not exist in the second language chosen by the complainant (Swedish) and the Selection Committee considered that the complainant mastered very well also other languages. Therefore, the Selection Committee allowed the complainant to choose the text in one of the main working languages (English, French or German), which the complainant had mentioned in his application form. The Commission was of the view that the situation did not harm the complainant in any way. Furthermore, the Selection Committee took into account this factor in its evaluation of this part of the interview particularly in the evaluation of the substance of the complainant's summary.

1.5 The Ombudsman notes that point II of the notice of selection provided that "the Commission takes great care to avoid any form of discrimination, both during the selection procedure and when making appointments". Furthermore, in point III.A of the notice of selection provided that "Once specified, candidates may not change the languages in which they wish to take the tests". In point V.A of the notice of selection it was stated that the "Preselection is based on a series of tests comprising multiple-choice questions intended to assess candidates'...comprehension of a second Community language". Finally, point V.C.3 b) of the notice of selection provided that in the second stage of the oral test the candidate will be given a text relating to the field specified in the application form in the second language specified in the application form. (underlining by the Ombudsman). It appears from the notice of selection that candidates were clearly informed to use their second language in the second stage of the oral test of COM/R/A/01/1999.

1.6 Thus, the Ombudsman considers that by obliging the complainant to make use of another language than his second language in the second stage of the oral test of the selection procedure COM/R/A/01/1999, the Commission failed to respect the notice of selection and this constitutes an instance of maladministration. The Ombudsman therefore considers it necessary to make a critical remark in this regard.

2 Lack of reply by the Commission

2.1 According to the complainant, he has not received a reply to his letter of appeal sent on 8 August 2000 to the Chairman of the Selection Committee.

2.2 The Commission gave its reply to the complainant's letter of appeal in its opinion to the Ombudsman dated 3 May 2001. In its opinion, the Commission regretted that the complainant had to wait this long before obtaining a reply to his appeal. The delay was mainly due to the reorganisation of the DG and the redistribution of tasks. The Chairmen of the Selection Committee were informed about the appeal letter and they confirmed the original appraisal on the basis of which the complainant was excluded from the reserve list.

2.3 It is good administrative practice for the administration to reply to letters it receives within a reasonable period and in an adequate way. The Commission replied to the complainant's letter of appeal dated 8 August 2000 seemingly only in its opinion to the Ombudsman nearly nine months later. The Ombudsman considers that this delay was excessive. This failure by the Commission to react to the complainant's letter of 8 August 2000 within a reasonable period of time and in an adequate way thus constitutes an instance of maladministration. The Ombudsman therefore considers it necessary to make a critical remark in this regard.

3 Conclusion

On the basis of the Ombudsman's inquiries into this complaint, it is necessary to make the following critical remarks:

The Ombudsman finds that by obliging the candidate to use another language than his second language in the second stage of the oral test of the selection procedure COM/R/A/01/1999, the Commission failed to respect the notice of selection and this constitutes an instance of maladministration.

It is good administrative practice for the administration to reply to letters it receives within a reasonable period and in an adequate way. The Commission replied to the complainant's letter of appeal dated 8 August 2000 seemingly only in its opinion to the Ombudsman nearly nine months later. The Ombudsman considers that this delay was excessive. This failure by the Commission to react to the complainant's letter of 8 August 2000 within a reasonable period of time and in an adequate way thus constitutes an instance of maladministration.

Given that these aspects of the case concern procedures relating to specific events in the past, it is not appropriate to pursue a friendly settlement of the matter. The Ombudsman therefore closes the case.

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