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Update April 1, 2010. The story on this page is 5 years old. It describes the reality of the reintegration grants as they were experienced by myself in 2004-2005. Since then, I have received several positive accounts of the Marie Curie grants. The nature of the whole program seems to be fundamentally changed for the better. It is fair to say that probably today you have little chances of living a similar experience to what you will read below.

This is the sad story of my Marie Curie European Reintegration Grant, a Marie Curie action, part of the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission. It all started in October 2003. I shall begin by recalling the sequence of events that brought my misfortune and continue from today on. One clarification is in place: this grant is ultimately supported by the Romanian taxpayer. In fact, Romania pays to FP6 20% of its anual research budget, which is about three times more than Romanian researchers receive back from the Commission within FP6.


I was a Young Researcher in two Research and Training Networks of the former FP5 between October 2001- September 2004. In plain words this means that I obtained three post-doctoral positions of one year each, first in Hamburg, Germany and then in Toulouse, France, funded by the European Commission. I was sheltered from the bureaucratic hassles of the RTNs thanks to my junior statute, but they seemed formidable to the people involved. These positions were reasonably paid and quite interesting from the scientific point of view. However, poor advertisement and unclear subsequent career perspectives made them unattractive to my fellow researchers. I was probably the only candidate for the position in Hamburg in an excellent research group. I was subsequently recruited by the people from Toulouse since they knew my interest in this type of position. I recall that the leader of another node of our RTN would have liked to offer me some of his post-doc months, had he known my availability. He had difficulties in finding qualified candidates. During this three year period I found out about the Marie Curie European Reintegration Grants. I decided to apply for one since I intended to move back to Romania. I enlisted the help of  prof. Radu Purice, scientific secretary of IMAR. Together we started the application process in October 2003.

Application phase April 2003 - December 2003
(56 hours of work for myself, probably as much for Radu, or the equivalent of 3 full weeks)
My opinion: Is it not outrageous that we are forced by the administration to use licensed software when they know very well that in the academia we  try to use open-source, free platforms? It is minimal decency to spare taxpayers money when possible. If we can, why can't they?
Negotiation phase January - September 2004
(20 hours for me, maybe 30 for Radu)
My opinion: It is nice to be timely, but in light of subsequent development I do not understand the sense of urgency. This cost the Commission
and IMAR 120 Eur.
Waiting for the contract: October 2004 - February 2005
(19 hours myself, 15 for Radu)
What I notice now is that this does not answer any of my questions. At the time I was not even aware that what we had received in September
was the "draft" contract and not the real thing. Thinking wishfully, I concluded (foolishly) that everything was fine. Another remark concerns the spelling mistakes. The word "Girigore" is a misspelling of the name "Grigore", but in a message to the Commission of May 14, 2004, Radu makes the following correction: "please be so kind to observe that in fact my name is Radu Purice and not Radu Grigore Purice, as appeared in Form A2 by mistake." Clearly this was lost on them. Also the address used was the physical address which is different from the postal address. This physical address itself is inexplicably very badly misspelled. Finally I note that we are not informed about any problem with the grant.
This is nonsensical bureaucratic gibberish. Who is the Commission Representative? Is not Mrs Fuhrmann herself a representative of the Commission? What is the period of time covered by the contract if the contract has not been signed? Notice that no word is being said about Sylvain. My action: postpone invitations and expenses until receipt of the money since I still thought at the time that the contract had been signed and it was all a question of days.
Dagmar answers immediately saying: "Tomorrow I will see Mr Liberali, Director of Directorate D, DG Research, at the Commission (Human Resources, Mobility and Marie Curie Actions)" whom she expects to meet at a conference the next day, and she proposes to discuss the matter with him. This meeting did not take place then, but instead she put me in contact with Alan Haigh, Head of Unit "Individual Fellowships".
I feel that I am not alone. Elated, I advertise on my homepage the second post-doc position I was supposed to fund through the ERG.
My opinion on this mail: Why did she not tell us before that something was missing? I am also very annoyed by her second spelling mistake of Radu's name. It is a typical acte manqué.
I finally understand that I was dumbly waiting for the money while the people in charge of the ERG "were still waiting" for something from me. In the meanwhile we exchanged lots of e-mails but they did not bother to inform us about it. Another bizarre fact is that Alan Haigh believes that between
November 27 and December 14 only "a few days" passed. Wow. I ask Radu about what he sent them "a few days ago" on November 27. He does not remember off hand, for him it was a long time ago. We dig through his mail archive. In fact he had sent to Bruxelles something for another grant (an  IRG of one of my colleagues, which is also _very_ late). This paper miraculously materialized in my ERG file too, but the Commission had _never_ asked for it. Unbelievable. 2 hours.
I start building this page
My comment: Yet another acte manqué. I do not mind. However, I do not understand where we stand regarding the money. Sincerely, I do not care about the contract, it will not buy us lunch. And now for a few deep thoughts. What a coincidence! Exactly when I write to her, Mrs Fuhrmann was about to send the contract. Can it be that she read this page? Or maybe her boss, or her boss's boss. Maybe the Commission resents being depicted precisely as it actually is - a handicap for European researchers. But probably I credit them with too much good sense, they would not bother to come to my virtual home. They are too busy shuffling papers. Think of it, between December 16, 2004 and February 10, 2005 they succeeded in signing my contract! This is speed even for a snail. My naive readers do not understand what a laudable effort this is, especially for busy people, with lots of bonuses to share at this time of the year between themselves, their wives, their secretaries and their chauffeurs. I must thank Mrs Fuhrmann. 2 hours.
I wish I was Polish too. Worked 3 hours on this thing. Good point. I agree that blackmailing the Commission would not be good. But hold on, am I really doing it? I _publicly_ informed them that I will disclose their _future_ actions to the public, with the purpose of improving their public image (I am not being sarcastic here, I do want the Commission to do its job and this fact to be universally known). Blackmail is confidential and refers to disclosing past actions. I am not asking something unreasonable or illegal, I only want to use the grant productively. So no way. How could you think of it? Is this the reaction of Mr Haigh and co.? They have too much time to think, believe me. How about _doing_ something too?  As for confrontation, you may have noticed first that it works, secondly that I started it 10 days ago. I simply let these people know what I want from them in a way they understand. Radio Gnome says it better than me: "give them hell, the useless bastards".
I am not saying that Mr Haigh should be hanged head down on Bruxelles's Grande-Place. Maybe it is not entirely his fault. Ok, 90 minutes are enough for today (or I thought so...).
Remember Count Dracula? Also known as Vlad the Impaler. He would have ruthlessly impaled the whole European Commission for lesser reasons than Failure to reply, Refusal of information or Unnecessary delay. No, he was not the man to tolerate maladministration.
All it takes to speak a foreign language is a few words and a brave heart. Entrez, wir sprechen Bruxellese.
I do not know what to believe. Mr. Haigh now treats my grant as if it was not a joke. It could be that he only does his best in order to improve the image of the Commission, as reflected to the wide world through this page. Nevertheless, this would already be a positive sign. I can only hope it will continue, that these months will go away like a bad dream. Maybe I will wake up one morning on October 1, 2004, meet the real Sylvain Golenia and learn that ERG6375 awaits for me. Maybe I am not a gigantic bug! (I know, this is abusing the comparison to Kafka). 20 minutes.
I finally understand the problem. These dedicated employees cannot complete their work because I flood them with aggressive emails! How excellent, that excuse with the "technical problems" concerning "the actual physical printing of the contracts"; "four new persons have been hired for a limited period of time just to get rid of this backlog". Why not fire 4 permanent employees (starting with the program chief) and buy instead a printer? My contract has exactly 3 pages. Not exactly the hardest to actually physically print.
To summarize the lessons of March 21: "it seems more urgent than ever"; "we still have fellows with unsigned contracts after more than a year"; "the current situation is exceptional"; "Fellows are advised not to contact their project officers as this will just keep those from doing their work." (ha-ha: what work?); "It won't change the acute problems"; "try to work your way around the Commission as much as possible" (exactly, 'around' as in 'around an obstacle') and finally "there is a life after the fellowship". This is the one I like best. Who said Europeans are not optimistic?
The contract has ended
Roc Ros Palau, 16 Jul 2004: I was really surprised to hear from some of you and to know that you are already enjoying your fellowship. I still do not have the oficial confirmation of the starting date of my contract. I was hoping to start in January 2004 but still waiting. Do you already have this confirmation? And when did you get it?
Hans-Martin Fuessel, 16 Jul 2004: Dear Roc and others, my return host received the Contract Prepartion Forms in February, returned them to the European Commission in February, received the unsigned contract in March, returned it in March, and received the countersigned contract from the European Commission on June 14. Long before, I had booked my flight to the USA on June 15. I understand that the schedule of most OIF fellows from Germany was rather similar. Some of us already departed before they had their contracts, obviously on their own risk. I'm not quite sure at what stage of this process you are. I would strongly recommend that you, or your return host, contact Mr Dandois or Ms Lardot, whose phone numbers should be on your Guidelines for Negotiations. You should also be aware that it is possible to agree with the European Commission a starting date for the project that is BEFORE the signature date of the contract between the Commission and the return host. This means that you can start, and your host may pay your from that date on, even if the countersigned contract has not arrived at the return host yet. To do this, your return host has to send a fax to Mr Dandois, requesting a fixed starting date (say July 1). The commission will then enter this date into the contract (by hand!). Usually this is done very quickly, i.e. on the same day. Unfortunately, I learnt about this possibility only when it was already too late.
David Bailey, 16 Jul 2004: I used the system that Martin describes. I got the commission to give me a start date of 1 may and flew out on the 3rd May. The contract was eventually signed in June, and I started getting my OIF salary and allowances in my June pay. It was Nicolas Dandois who eventually sorted this out, I had to fax him to give signed permission to put a fixed start date on the form - usually they allow you to start within 6 months of the signature. It's a bit of a scary way of doing things but it does work. You have to keep pushing them all the time. Good luck
David Bailey, 16 Jul 2004: Your national contact point (...) might be more honest about delays than the commission people.
Antonio Campos, 2 Aug 2004: Last February I applied for an Oungoing-International Fellowship. Friday last week I discovered that my proposal was transfered to the Intra-European Fellowship without my knowledge and, consequently, without my consent. The research project was conceived and writtenspecifically for the Outgoing action so the panel for the Intra-European fellowship could not have evaluated my proposal properly. I have told with Ms Campo by phone but I am still waiting for a fair answer. I have also sent an email to Ms Leflot that I have enclosed at the end of my message.I would like to know if anybody is in the same situation and what other type of actions should I follow to find out a solution to this intolerable administrative error. (Follows his message to one Ms Leflot, the clone of  Ms Fuhrmann-Lardot-etc. with such spicy formulae as "intolerable, administrative error, fair answer, I do not understand what has really happened, without my knowledge". It is almost like reading my own early messages. How naive I was! How rightful were the "useless bastards" in treating me like they did!)
Dagmar Meyer, 2 Aug 2004 sides with the EC: In that sense the Commission has actually done you a favour by transfering your proposal - rather than declaring it ineligible straight away they at least gave you a second chance. Sorry, but I really don't think that you can talk of unfair treatment here.
Antonio strikes back:  Dear Ms Meyer, I think you should read the handbooks provided by the European Union or read more carefully my email before given imprecise information in order to not confuse other members and other possible applicants. He goes on to demolishing Dagmar's answer.
Dagmar' reply, 3 Aug 2004: Dear Antonio, I have to admit that I was a bit too quick in my judgement concerning your case, and you do actually have a point. She writes two more pages on this very important topic.
Stefano Arghiro, 21 Aug 2004: Being new to the EC burocracy world, it looks like the best way to extract information is by analogy and statistical considerations !  (this sounds like a mild and vague remark compared to the rest, but it describes nicely the atmosphere).
Aitor Mugarza, 18 Jan 2005: I am waiting for the starting of the negotiations between the host institution and EC, long wait. Joelle Lardot told me it should be done by the end of December, but it seems not to be the case.
Hans-Martin Fuessel, 26 Jan 2005. Needless to say I never received any response from the EU bureaucrats. (I tend to suspect that their consistent pattern of non-response is related to them not understanding their own rules any better than we scientists do...)
Martin Fassnacht, 28 Jan 2005: Dear all, It looks like that the people at the EU dealing with our proposals are failing completely their task. Obviously, most of us ? if not all (applied for OIF deadline February 2004) are still waiting for contracts. The communication with Brussels is catastrophic and very painful. I thought the EU was aiming at supporting the "excellent" young scientists in Europe. However, this was obviously a misunderstanding. Maybe we should try to get an overview, how many have already signed a contract and how many have experienced several problems with Brussels. Then, we should inform the head of the Marie Curie Action in a common letter about our difficulties with the EU bureaucracy. If this will not lead to significant improvement, we can think about further steps.  Here we go. I am sincerely curious what further steps Martin was considering. Concerning the timing, this is Day -10 of the Trap page, the story you are now reading.
David Bailey, Fri, 28 Jan 2005 It might be helpful to give a full timeline for a completed evaluation round. So you can get an idea of how long this all takes. (he describes the process as he experienced it between March 2003 and July 2004) (...) Otherwise you could be retired before your project starts. Good luck. P.S. It's all worth it, really. Don't give up.  This last encouragement sounds like Run Lola Run, the title of a German thriller that I once found amusing. Enough for today!

*After the contract ended*

  • January 16, 2006. The USA have overtaken Germany... as the first country of origin of visitors to this page. There is life after death after all. I received in the meanwhile the following letter: "Dear Dr. Moroianu, I would like to request a copy of the FT article mentioned in your Marie Curie web page - if you have one. (I have no subscription to FT.) Prodded by similar "success" stories like yours, I am compiling data about the "5-year-plan" like structure of EU research. There are a number of US graduates in Europe, many encountering similar friction. (...) The gap between the Lisbon declaration (Europe leading the world in know-how by 2010) and facts is widening. The competition for attracting experts is also increasing (the US needs ca. 0.7 million skilled personnel over the next 10 years, likewise China and likewise Europe - over those retiring that is). Kicking in the face exactly those that can help is very much counter-productive." Signed: UNIX Pinguin, a.k.a. Petra van Alten. Excuse me, Ms. Pinguin, are you related to Radio Gnome Invisible? Just kidding :-) really I mean no offence, please see my entry of February 17, 2005. Strangely, people with improbable names are most acutely aware of the symptoms of the Euro-disease. As for a cure more effective than "giving hell" to the "useless bastards" as the Gnome diplomatically puts it - a strategy which is to this page what advice is to action - I hope that one exists which will not kill the patient. Yes, I do hope that one can throw out the dirty water (you know what I mean but let me say it again nonetheless, in sign of deferrence to the Gnome: I mean the "useless bastards" from a certain Commission, ha-ha) without throwing out old baby Europe! How foolish, you may say.
  • February 1, 2006. The Ombudsman informed me about his new inquiries to the Commission. He asks the Commission to "reconsider whether it wishes to maintain its argument that the unusual duration of the procedure is <<due primarily to poor cooperation of the host institution (...)>> and inform the Ombudsman whether (...) it would be prepared to offer ex gratia compensation for the fact (...) that delays for which it is responsible occured". You know me by now: in such a letter I always look for the keyword. In this letter, it is "prepared". Are Mr. Haigh and Neves prepared? This is the question.
  • February 10, 2006. I missed the first aniversary of this page. To the 24 visitors from two days ago, greetings! Some info: I heard that the ERG scheme will be scraped in the future, which is good news in itself. I also learned about a colleague of mine who got a huge grant from the ministry of research. Since I do not apply to grants anymore (well, almost), I missed this opportunity. His grant was larger than the ERG, only that he can get most of it as salary, and spend the rest as he wishes. At least, so the story goes. Thus I found a new reason to loathe the poisoned gift called erg. I start to question my strategy of not applying to grants. Just being more selective could be enough; I mean, I could simply say I will not apply to grants managed by "useless bastards". We will see.
  • May 11, 2006. Still no news from the Ombudsman. Must call him. In the meanwhile I did not apply to any more grants. I was on the point of filling an application when suddenly the bad ERG memories flashed back. I realized that I am doing well without a grant. These grants are efficient in making people happy... but only when they are over.
  • July 21, 2006. Message on MCFA from gloria: "hi i was awarded with one reintegration grant very recently. we have to send all the papers before next monday. but in my host institution, none has received the original files. i forwarded them what i got. but we have missing the CPF file. without it, we cannot do much. we are trying to contact the negotiating officer, in this case Mrs. Carla Turone, but so far we did not success. does someone know how to reach someone in the european commission who could tell us exactly to whom these files were sent, or otherwise to send them asap thanks a lot." Hmm... so they did not success in contacting Mrs. Carla Turone! Surprising, is it not. As for gloria's question, it depends on what asap means for her. I can warmly recommend one Alan Haigh and his co-workers Das Neves and Fuhrmann at the european commission. They are perfectly capable of sending you files less than one full year after they are due. However for this you would need to post your story on the internet and complain with the Ombudsman. By the way, this inquiry is really taking a long time (to quote from a classic: "but what are a few months compared to the eternity of the European construction process").
  • October 19, 2006. Erik-jan Malta on ERG grants final report approval: "I submitted my final report last May (electronic was before deadline, documents unfortunately about 1 week after) and haven't heard anything since. As the end of the bookkeeping year is nearing administration is breathing down my neck to get the remaining 10 or so %. I read that they should answer within 90 days (we're at about 150 days now) but at the same time that if they don't there is no such thing as tacit approval for final reports. What is the experience of other ERG grant fellows, how long does it usually take for the EC to answer and what happens if they don't? I tried to contact them, but apparently my administrative officer is no longer working there (e-mail ceased to exist) and the others remain very very silent (as usual...)."
  • October 3, 2007. Another year passed by. Happy Tag der Deutschen Einheit! Since my last posting, more countries joined the European Union, longstanding conjectures have been proved, and Oktoberfest drinkers drank another few million liters of first-quality beer. Meanwhile the careful analysis of my complaint by the European Ombudsman continues unabated.
*May be continued*

March 6, 2009. I apologise for not posting earlier the outcome of my complaint regarding the "maladministration". The enquiry of the Ombudsman ended in December 2007. The decision can be found here. It was based on hundreds of pages of passionate correspondence between me and the Ombudsman, and of lawyerish gibberish between the commission and the ombudsman. Maybe one day they will be posted on this page. In short, I received a check of 1000 euros (which I cashed recently), and also apologies from the European Commission. Remarkably, the EC did not extend its excuses to me personally, but rather stated to the Ombudsman that they apologise. I cannot show you their letter to me in which they apologise, since it does not exist. Although I complained about this insulting way of asking for pardon, the Ombudsman considered that they apologised enough. If you are really curious, you will find the passage in the above link. A word of caution about the Ombudsman: a lawyer from Strassbourg called me on the phone in February 2007 (unlike the clerk in charge of my grant, he was indeed able to find my mobile number) and asked me if I would agree with the above solution that he was about to offer. It was a mistake for me to talk to him about it and to agree on the spot (not that it matters, but just as a piece of advice for your future dealings with EU bodies). I had already forgotten all this mess by the time he called me. One should only accept a solution after carefully examining it in writing. Also the timing of the reparation is crucial: it should occur before you agree to close the case with the ombudsman. Otherwise, they just get away with their horrendous maladministration.

You may wonder why I received a check instead of a wire transfer. Well, after all what I endured, no wonder that I would never disclose to these people my bank coordinates. You will be surprised to learn that it took them 8 months and 10 letters to send me the check. They kept pretending that it was unusual, blah-blah. Ah, all this precious, scarce bandlength wasted corresponding with the useful clerks of the EC! All those trees cut to produce the paper on which the Commission's observations to the complainant's remarks on the Commission's answer to the Ombudsman's proposal for a friendly solution in light of the complainant's observations to the Commission's answer to the Ombudsman's demand for further clarification about the Commission's answer to the etc, etc, was printed! Don't you think this sentence would sound just lovely in German... Strangely, when I went to the bank to cash my reward, the clerk asked me if I was there to cancel that check. I assured her that it was not in the least my intention, on the contrary I was rather determined to cash it at that very moment but for some reason she was not fully convinced. After many phone calls to her superiors (manifestly, the issuer of the check was suspicious to her) I had to return to the bank a few days later when everything went fine. This occured shortly before the 6 months validity period of the check was about to expire. The malefic grant thus annoyed me to its bitter end.

Now that my ERG ordeal is history, I should say that this type of grants has changed drastically over the years. The present ones are much improved compared to my times, from what I hear. Among other things, they offer salary to the researcher (mine did not) and extend over several years.

I secretly pride myself for having contributed, even so slightly, to the improvement of the ERG's of today's young researches.

May they succeed in their research and never have to learn the hard way, like myself, the word "maladministration"!

*** FIN ***

Bucuresti, 6 martie 2009

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