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Sigma Orionis forced to cease its activities

April 28, 2016

EndA tragic story on EU research and innovation…

Founded in 1984, Sigma Orionis has imagined, designed, often coordinated and always successfully completed a large number of ambitious projects, namely in the area of Information and Communication Technologies and in the one of S&T cooperation with Africa and Asia.

Through these projects, the company has striven to improve the perspectives and impact of European research, to promote Europe’s image around the world, to modestly contribute shaping a better world.

We have built a team of skilled, passionate and hard-working women and men, sharing true personal and professional values, less motivated by money than by project success. We have, year after year, followed the strictest principles in staff and financial management.

We have been the most successful of all European SMEs, ranking (end of 2015) n°1 in terms of successful applications to the highly competitive calls of the H2020 EU research and innovation funding programme (covering the period 2014-2020). Which means, according to the project selection criteria of the European Commission, that Sigma Orionis is the European SME able to submit (and manage) the most innovative, suitably designed, and impactful research and innovation projects.

And what does the European Commission do in recognition of this?

Does it reward this SME with a prize or award, hold it up as an example, suggest it to widely share its expertise and best practices all over Europe? No. OLAF investigators are missioned to find out whether the European funding had been put to good use. Why not…

After an investigation of nearly 2 years, no embezzlement, no bogus employment contracts, no fictional invoices, no extravagant expenditure, no personal gain, have been found. Nothing. The company is irreproachable in its management, as its auditor confirms it year after year, describing the company as ‘crystal-clear’.

The projects it rolled out using European funding were also flawlessly executed: their cost statements were deemed acceptable by independent experts appointed by the European Commission (the so-called “reviewers”), who often extolled the performance and quality of the work carried out by the company.

So what is the issue then? OLAF has in fact focused its work on the tool used by the company to monitor the amount of time spent on each project by each employee, and prepared a senseless report based on “hypotheses” and “extrapolations”, a report which the French justice system declared “illegally established”.

The European Commission has however decided to make a profoundly unjust decision (based on this report established in violation of articles of the EU Treaty!), suspending all “present and future” payments to the company, forcing it to cease its activities and fire all its employees (Sigma Orionis should have counted 28 staff members to date).

Is it what can be called “responsible governance”?

The European Commission deplores the lack of SMEs involved in its research and innovation programmes but deliberately sets out to brutally destroy those that succeed. The Commission claims to support the development of the European economy, but blithely slashes jobs.

Having heard one of my presentations, the Chief Scientific Officer of the European Commission quoted me in one of her tweets: “EU not just delivering peace and prosperity, also research and innovation, the EU brings us together”.

I must admit that my faith in Europe, its values and its future has now been shaken…

Roger Torrenti

Founder of Sigma Orionis

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