In August 2014, Serbia made a call for tender, for the promotion and protection of property rights of internally displaced refugees and returnees upon readmission agreements (Publication reference EuropeAid/135633/IH/SER/RS). It was open only to a short list of four prequalified vendors (companies). One of the companies invited to the bidding table was Germany’s GesellschaftfürInternationaleZusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

Let’s look at the background, and some of the questions raised about two key players in this tender process.

The first is Marzia Palotta. She has been the European Union Task Manager at the EU Delegation to Serbia for at least seven years during which time she has coordinated and managed projects in the fields of internally displaced persons and refugees in the country.

One question is why Palotta has been allowed to keep her post for such a long time when EU officials normally hold a position within a specific delegation for three years or in exceptional cases for a maximum of five years in order to ensure transparency.

The second is Ognjen Miric. Since March 2014, he has been serving as the regional manager for the Western Balkans and Turkey at the German company, GIZ. Before that, however, he served as the deputy director at the Serbian European Integration Office, Coordinator for EU Funds. He was responsible for the overall coordination of development assistance in Serbia, overall programming and monitoring of IPA components and coordination of EU Programmes.

In fact, it was under Miric’s watch that GIZ tendered for numerous contracts in Serbia. As for the EuropeAid/135633/IH/SER/RS, it was even prepared by Miric himself in 2013 while serving as the deputy director of Serbia’s European Integration office.

What is more, Miric is has a close personal relationship with Milovan Filimonovic, State Secretary at the Finance Ministry. Since November 2014, Filimonovic has been heading the division for tender evaluation and contracting and the Contracts Finance Central Unit (CFCU) at the Finance Ministry. He is responsible for the coordination and management of EU tenders managed by the CFCU. It is worth noting that the ‘two friends’ had worked together at Serbia’s European integration office, before.

This is probably enough to start an investigation; yet, there is more.

Sources have told New Europe that an Austrian company has filed an official conflict-of-interest complaint against Miric as regards the participation of GIZ in a tender being carried out these days.

In September, New Europe contacted the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations to notify the office about the “privileged relations” between the EU delegation in Serbia and the German embassy. For instance, several years ago the German ambassador in Serbia allegedly interfered to ensure that a tender was awarded to a German company.

New Europe also informed the competent directorate-general about the  EuropeAid tender.

In response, the directorate-general forwarded this information to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and New Europe was also encouraged to inform OLAF of the matter in order to ensure that EU funds are properly administrated, transparently and according to the rules.

As regards EuropeAid, the Contracting Authority on October 2 decided to cancel the tender procedure on the grounds that it had been “unsuccessful” and that there were major deficiencies that prevent its finalization. This however, despite that the tender was already legitimately awarded (coincidentally not to the company with privileged access).

The beauty is that a new short list of companies was produced for companies to submit again proposals. It is not a surprise that GIZ was also on this list.

Now the biggest question is about OLAF and whether the agency even looked into the information submitted about the tender and whether it will investigate how the EU office in the Serbian capital actually functions. It should be added that the EU office in Serbia, despite explicit decisions for exclusion, keeps in its short list the notorious IMG (see “the thing” scandal in New Europe).

Under these circumstances, Kassandra does not very much care about the tender in Serbia and the “patents” of these good people representing us in Serbia. Indeed we will not be surprised if they give to the company that was not a bidder in the previous tender. That seems to be the purpose of this exercise, after all. Kassandra is experienced enough to know that people do what they do, either for fear or pleasure. And we at New Europe are under the impression that in this case both reasons are valid.

However, what is important for us is to know what kind of arguments we should use with our fellow citizens, our sons ans daughters, when they maintain I’m a populist fashion that the European Commission is a “corporate gang.” We strive to find reasons to claim this is not true. Because, if there are no arguments and the populsts are correct, then we have to see things from a different angle. In Brussels, we have the right person in the right position and can take care of the matter. Indeed, the boss of OLAF, Giovanni Kessler, has a very extensive experience in dealing with “honourable societies”. If we are not mistaken, he served for six years as an anti-Mafia prosecutor in Caltanissetta, Sicily interrogating I Corleonesi and knows much more about corporate gangs than anybody else in Brussels.