Ombudsman slams EU recruitment office over language bias

European Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros has officially criticised the EU institutions’ recruitment office, EPSO, for ‘maladministration’ following a Polish complaint concerning English-, French- and German-language bias in EU entrance exams between 2004-06, to the detriment of the ten countries which joined the EU in 2004.   

complaint made by Polish civil-service alumni organisation SAKSAP concerning recruitment tests at the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) was favourably received by the Ombudsman. The complaint related to EU entrance exams sat between 2004 and late-2006, when candidates had to show knowledge of one of the 11 languages of the old member states, as opposed to one of the 21 EU languages that were in place following the accession of the ten countries that joined in 2004. 

The Ombudsman issued critical remarks against EPSO, saying that the body “had not provided any satisfactory explanation as to why knowledge of one of the 11 languages of the old member states as a second language could be necessary for the performance of candidates’ future duties, while knowledge of one of the ten official languages of the new member states could not”. 

Furthermore, said Diamandouros, “the fact that EPSO imposed a requirement to take tests in English, French or German in the context of Open Competitions…and did not impose such a requirement in other competitions taking place at the same point in time for the recruitment of officials who would eventually carry out substantially identical functions, called into question whether the requirement to take tests in English, French or German…was actually necessary for the performance of [a future official’s] duties. In this respect, EPSO infringed the principle of non-discrimination. This is an instance of maladministration.”

Diamandouros also underlined “the right of every EU citizen to communicate with the EU institutions in any of the 23 official languages and to receive an answer in the language of his or her choice”, and equally stressed the importance of establishing clear language rules for mass communication with citizens. 

Other recent cases addressed by the Ombudsman include the Council providing an answer in English to a request written in Irish concerning the state of preparedness of the EU for Irish as an official language. After the Ombudsman intervened, the Council apologised and provided a translation into Irish. In addition, an association providing support in Germany for torture victims complained to the Ombudsman about the Commission’s demand to submit proposals for a project of the ‘European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights’ in English, French or Spanish only. 

In a draft Recommendation, the Ombudsman urged the Commission to avoid in the future any unjustified restrictions with regard to the official languages in which proposals may be submitted under this programme.

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