Ombudsman finds Commission's slow response to euro-yen exchange rate losses suffered by a Japan-based research fellow to be maladministration

April 4, 2002

Strasbourg, 3 April 2002

Decision of the European Ombudsman on complaint 1100/2001/GG against the European Commission. Strasbourg, 5 March 2002. Text

Complaint against the European Commission regarding the latter's handling of a grant as a European Commission Science and Technology Fellow in Japan.

In summary, the complainant submitted the following claims and allegations:

(1) The Commission failed to grant him compensation on account of the deterioration of the exchange rate between the Yen and the Euro

(2) The Commission infringed his right to good administration

THE DECISION

1 Failure to grant compensation on account of deterioration of exchange rate

1.1 The complainant, a German scientist, was awarded by the European Commission a grant expressed in Euros under the "Fifth Framework Programme of the European Community for Research, Technological development and Demonstration activities" for a stay of two years in Japan. He claimed that as a result of the deterioration of the exchange rate between the Yen and the Euro, he received less than comparable scientists that had arrived the year before or the year after and that he was thus being discriminated against.

1.2 In its opinion, the Commission took the view that it had complied with its commitments and had infringed neither the principle of legitimate expectations nor that of equal treatment. However, the Commission also noted that it had carried out a comparative analysis of the situation and that on the basis of this analysis it intended to grant a further indemnity to the complainant and his colleagues.

1.3 In his observations, the complainant informed the Ombudsman that the Commission had offered to make further payments ranging between € 11 037 and € 11 726 to the complainant and his colleagues and that this offer had been accepted.

1.4 The complainant stressed that the relevant sum had not yet been paid. The Ombudsman trusts, however, that the Commission will pay the sum due to the complainant as soon as possible.

1.5 It thus appears that the Commission has taken steps to settle this aspect of the complaint and has thereby satisfied the complainant.

2 Infringement of right to good administration

2.1 The complainant alleges that the Commission failed to reply to his letters of 5 December 2000 and of 15 June 2001 within a reasonable period and omitted to give reasons for its decision to reject the demand for compensation. He further considers that the Commission was deliberately delaying the matter. In his view, the Commission has thus infringed his right to good administration under Article 41 of the Charter on Fundamental Rights.

2.2 The Commission accepts that it only replied to the first letter of 5 December 2000 on 21 March 2001. According to the Commission, this was due to the need for many internal discussions with different services on such a complex matter and the need to analyse the situation and possible solutions with great care. Whilst the complainant and several of his colleagues had written a further letter to the Commission on 15 June 2001, the Tokyo Delegation had been in constant touch with the fellows. Furthermore, the Commission points out that its services met seven of the fellows belonging to STF 14, including the complainant, on 12 June 2001, and explained the situation.

2.3 Article 41 (1) of the Charter on Fundamental Rights provides that every person has the right to have his affairs handled "within a reasonable time by the institutions and bodies of the European Union". The Ombudsman notes that in the present case the complainant first wrote to the Commission in early December 2000. The video conference at which the Commission proposed to make a further payment took place in early December 2001.

2.4 It has thus taken the Commission nearly a whole year to come up with a solution to the problem raised by the complainant and his colleagues. In this context, regard should be had to the fact that it was comparatively easy to ascertain, on the basis of a simple mathematical operation, the accuracy of the complainant's claim that his grant was effectively lower than that given to comparable scientists. The Ombudsman understands that it may take some time to decide on the action to be taken and to find the funds necessary to finance further, compensatory payments. Given that the complainant's stay in Japan was limited to two years and that the grant was intended to help him cover the expenses of this stay, it would however have been all the more important to react as quickly as possible. Moreover, the Commission was already aware of the problem before the complainant turned to it, given that a similar complaint had been lodged in November 1999(2). In these circumstances, the Ombudsman considers that the Commission has failed to handle the matter within a reasonable time. This is an instance of maladministration, and the Ombudsman considers it necessary to make a critical remark.

3 Conclusion

On the basis of the European Ombudsman's inquiries into this complaint, it appears necessary to make the following critical remark:

Article 41 (1) of the Charter on Fundamental Rights provides that every person has the right to have his affairs handled "within a reasonable time by the institutions and bodies of the European Union". The Ombudsman notes that in the present case it has taken the Commission nearly a whole year to come up with a solution to the problem raised by the complainant. He further notes that the Commission was already aware of the problem before the complainant turned to it, given that a similar complaint had been lodged in November 1999. In these circumstances, the Ombudsman considers that the Commission has failed to handle the matter within a reasonable time. This is 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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