Brussels, 7 November 2019 – Today, the European Ombudsman published her decision in the case submitted by the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) on 27 October 2018. The case (ref. number 1848/2018/KR) concerns the European Commission’s rejection of ENIL’s application in a call for proposals aiming to establish support for European networks active in the area of rights of persons with disabilities. Having read the decision, we are disappointed that the Ombudsman had found no maladministration in our case. Nevertheless, we welcome the fact that the Ombudsman has encouraged the European Commission to make the overall assessment of the proposals available to the applicants in the future.

ENIL submitted the complaint to the European Ombudsman after our application for funding was rejected and following attempts to receive the full evaluation of our proposal. In the complaint, we argued that the Disability & Inclusion Unit (DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion) was in the conflict of interest, because it is both the focal point for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and in charge of allocating funds to organisations involved in the monitoring of CRPD. We therefore suggested that the evaluation of proposals should be done by independent experts.

The second part of the complaint related to the fact that we were unable to get any information about our evaluation, other than the summary provided in the rejection letter. We filed an access to documents request, among other, which was unsuccessful. We therefore complained that this lack of information had made it difficult to challenge the Commission’s decision.

The European Ombudsman conducted an inquiry and found that ENIL had not been treated unfairly, and that it is reasonable for the internal staff to evaluate the applications. With regard to the transparency of evaluation, it also found no maladministration, because ENIL had asked for “evaluation sheets”, rather than the evaluation report, and it was reasonable for the Commission to keep the evaluation sheets confidential. It did, however, recommend that the “Commission’s overall assessment of the proposal”, including the marks awarded for each criterion and the explanation of why each mark was awarded,  should be available to applicants on request.

While ENIL appreciates the Ombudsman’s inquiry into our case, we are disappointed that the question of the conflict of interest was not considered. The General Comment 7 (2018) on Article 4.3 and 33.3 CRPD makes it clear that funders should not be in a position to influence the DPOs’ advocacy agenda (para 61(d)). Despite finding no evidence of bias on the Commission’s part, the Ombudsman did not consider whether these two roles should be kept separate. Regarding transparency, ENIL had asked in person and in writing for access to evaluations, in any form that the Disability & Inclusion Unit could provide them in. The reason why in the access to documents request we referred to evaluation sheets, is because we were not made aware of the existence of the evaluation report, nor was this offered to us. Therefore, the finding of maladministration in this respect was simply due to a procedural error on ENIL’s part. There were opportunities, however, for the Disability & Inclusion Unit to provide us with the overall assessment, which is recognised by the Ombudsman with a recommendation that this should be provided to organisations applying for funding in the future.

To read the Ombudsman’s decision in full, please click here.