“The Hunt”

© European Union , 2015

EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn (left) is briefed by Ambassador Michael Davenport during a recent visit to Belgrade. Judging from the expression of the Commissioner, rather distant and bored, the subject of the briefing was probably the achievements of the delegation in transposing to the Serbian administration the ethos and the transparency principles of the European Union

An Opera Buffa staged by the EU Ambassador in Belgrade


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Once upon a time in Serbia, back in August 2014, a tender was called (EuropeAid/135633/IH/SER/RS) for the protection of property rights of internally displaced refugees. The matter is quite serious and current, as both President Jean Claude Juncker and Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos have been losing their sleep over it for months. The issue is hot and quasi impossible to handle. Therefore, every detail counts.

This tender, despite the urgency of the matter however, was cancelled as, according to the EU Delegation in Belgrade, “the ex ante check by the Delegation detected deficiencies in the evaluation procedure…”

Therefore, the tender was relaunched on 15 October 2015 with a deadline for the delivery of offers set for 4 December 2015. The results were to be announced in 90 days’ time, by 4 March 2016. However, the Delegation extended the announcement deadline to 12 April 2016, the day that offers were expiring and on this date the successful bidder was announced.

As the file of the tender was closed after the announcement of the successful bidder, we have asked the EU Delegation in Serbia to provide us with “the ex ante check by the Delegation detected deficiencies in the evaluation procedure…” which the same delegation gave to New Europe (printed in issue 1152 of 14 February 2016) as the reason for cancelling the tender in the first instance.

The delegation said that there is an ongoing OLAF investigation on the matter and, therefore, cannot release such information. Furthermore, the delegation claimed that such information cannot be released as it comes under the restrictions of Articles 4.2 and 4.3 of Regulation (EC) 1049/2001 (Access to Documents).

As per the ongoing OLAF investigation, we cannot understand how it is possible that the same people who are under investigation for the cancelled tenders can be responsible for the repetition of the same tender, while under investigation. This is a paradox that can only happen in the European Commission.

Furthermore, what restrictions of Articles 4.2 and 4.3 are we talking about? In cases under such provisions there is a concluding binding term that says, information requested cannot be released “UNLESS THERE IS AN OVERRIDING PUBLIC INTEREST”.

Always and by default, in all cases where taxpayers’ money is involved, and in particular in cases of public tenders, there is unquestionably, an overriding public interest.

However, enough with the “salads” (Raconte-moi des salads) of this delegation.

As to why the first tender was cancelled, we are looking forward to the conclusions of the OLAF investigation.

As to the re-launched tender, we have some ideas because, to the best of our knowledge, there is no OLAF investigation launched (as yet).  According to my contacts in Belgrade, I was told and I sincerely hope that it is not true, that when the Serbian Evaluation Committee presented its conclusions to the delegation, the latter was not very happy. The conclusions were similar to the conclusions of the first tender. The delegation did not accept the results and asked the Evaluation Committee to change the order of the winners. The Serbians are tough, they are fighters (we have seen this in the Second World War) and they are honest and direct people. So, the Committee refused to comply with the wishes of the delegation and kept insisting on that. For this reason, despite the urgency of the matter (we are talking of a project exclusively concerning refugees), the delegation did not announce the winner on March 4, as it should have, but extended the announcement date to the last day of validity of the offers, that was April 12, awarding the tender, according the claims of my Belgrade sources, to the third on the list of the Evaluation Committee, which mysteriously became first.

To implement the picture of this opera buffa staged by the former British Ambassador in Belgrade, now the EU Ambassador, in the same place where it seems is not a “persona very much grata,” we must add one interesting detail. The Evaluation Committee, in order to avoid any further discussion of the matter, went on… leave and returned after the announcement. Therefore, it would be interesting to find out, if what I was told is correct, who in the delegation took the initiative to change the winning order on the list submitted by the Evaluation Committee and what Ambassador Michael Davenport thinks about it.

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