in case 78/2017/TE on the alleged exclusion of the unemployed from the European Commission’s public consultation on the provision of services for the long-term unemployed
The case concerned the European Commission’s conduct of a public consultation on the provision of services for the long -term unemployed. The complainant was concerned about the manner in which the consultation was carried out, as it would have excluded the unemployed from participating. In particular, it contested the fact that it was published in English only, lasted a short time and did not allow for submissions in paper form.
The Ombudsman inquired into the issue. Regarding the fact that the consultation was published in English only, in view of the Ombudsman’s ongoing inquiry into the Commission’s linguistic policy in public consultations (7/2016/PL), the Ombudsman found that there were not sufficient grounds to open a separate inquiry in this case.
As regards the other issues raised by the complainant, the Ombudsman found that the Commission failed to reply to those concerns in its initial correspondence with the complainant. In the course of her inquiry, the Ombudsman contacted the Commission, which then sent a reply to the complainant. As the Commission has now replied, the complaint has been settled and the Ombudsman closed the case.
Background to the complaint
- 1. In March 2015, the complainant, an Austrian organisation of unemployed people, complained to the Representation of the European Commission in Austria (“the Representation”) about the Commission’s public consultation on the provision of services for the long-term unemployed (“the consultation”), held from 19 February to 15 May 2015.
- The complainant was concerned about the fact that the consultation would have excluded, from the outset, a large part of the unemployed persons. In particular, it criticised that it was available in English only, that the unemployed had not been addressed as a target group, that the consultation period of three months was too short, that one-sided and leading questions were posed and that the unemployed had no means to raise their voice at EU level.
- On 23 March 2015, the Representation informed the complainant that it had forwarded the complaint to the competent Directorate General of the Commission.
- On 7 April 2015, the Commission responded to the complainant. It explained that long-term unemployment was one of the long-lasting consequences of the economic crisis and that its consultation aimed to find out how services for the long-term unemployed could be improved. It stated that the consultation had been published in accordance with the applicable guidelines and that, although the consultation was available in English only, contributions could be provided in any EU language. It invited the complainant to give its views on the support to the long-term unemployed and the offered services.
- Dissatisfied with the Commission’s answer, the complainant turned to the Ombudsman, on 10 January 2017.
6. The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the complaint and identified the following issues raised by the complainant:
1) The Commission failed to make the consultation available in languages other than English.
2) The Commission failed to actively involve the unemployed and their organisations in the entire process of the consultation.
3) The Commission does not support the emergence of independent and strong organisations representing the interests of unemployed persons.
4) The consultation period of three months was too short.
5) The questionnaire and consultation paper were one-sided and manipulative.
6) The consultation did not allow for submissions in paper form.
7. The Ombudsman noted that the first issue, that is, the fact that the consultation was published in English only, falls within the Ombudsman’s more general ongoing inquiry into the Commission’s linguistic policy in public consultations (7/2016/PL). The Ombudsman is well aware of the problems that a restricted availability of public consultations in the EU’s official languages might entail. In view of this ongoing inquiry, the Ombudsman found that there are not sufficient grounds to open a separate inquiry into the complainant ’s first issue.
8. Regarding the other issues raised by the complainant, the Ombudsman found that these concerns had not yet been addressed by the Commission in its initial reply to the complainant of 7 April 2015. In the course of her inquiry, the Ombudsman therefore asked the Commission to reply to the complainant’s concerns. The Commission then replied to the complainant on 18 April 2017.
The Ombudsman's assessment
9. The Ombudsman considers that, in its reply of 18 April 2017, the Commission addressed the remaining five issues raised by the complainant, regarding the role of unemployed persons in this consultation, the alleged lack of the EU’s support for independent and strong associations representing the interests of the unemployed, the alleged short duration of the consultation, the alleged manipulative manner in which the questions were phrased and the possibility to submit contributions in paper form. The Ombudsman also notes that the Commission invited the complainant to contact the Commission, within four weeks, in case of further observations.
10. As the Commission has now replied to the complainant, the Ombudsman considers that the complaint is resolved.
Based on the inquiry, the Ombudsman closes this case with the following conclusion 1 :
The complaint has been settled by the Commission.
The complainant and the Commission will be informed of this decision.
Head of Inquiries - Unit 3