So it is done. Mogherini has today been appointed as the new Rector of the College of Europe at a meeting of the Academic Council of the College, to be confirmed by the Administrative Council in June.
Not that there is a formal statement about the appointment yet – that will come tomorrow (as Politico was told – half way down here). But Quatremer has tweeted it, and the news has been confirmed to me by internal sources.
But why would we expect transparency and clarity in this process now? For that has been lacking throughout. The first most of us even knew of Mogherini’s candidature was through the Commission Decision, hence it is fitting that the news of the appointment comes first on the grapevine.
It all seems to have all played out in the way I had feared a few weeks ago and outlined in a blog post at the time, although back then I had assumed that the College would at least pay lip service to respecting its own procedures, and would organise a further round of interviews. That to the best of my knowledge has not happened. So all of the candidates interviewed in November (more than 5 months ago) were left in limbo until today. Mogherini was interviewed at the end of April, and then the Academic Council today was asked to approve her appointment. And did not even vote. Disregarding the fact that the world has changed since November (and it might have been fair to have invited those interviewed then to be interviewed again). Disregarding the fact that Mogherini does not comply with the stated criteria for the position. And disregarding that the Commission Decision prevents her taking financial decisions relating to EU funding as Rector, and that being a core component of the job description.
However a member of the Academic Council has tweeted that her appointment is “en pleine conformité avec les procédures” (completely respects the procedures), while simultaneously declining my questions (Q1, Q2) as to how this is so, and accusing Jean Quatremer of mounting a disinformation campaign. That is an interesting way to defend what is happening.
Ultimately everyone loses here.
The College of Europe’s reputation is damaged, even if there are some alumni who can somehow console themselves the College has chosen a high profile person. Political pressure on the College will mount – Green MEPs have written a letter to von der Leyen about conflicts of interest regarding the appointment, and other MEPs will doubtless start probing the College’s finances, the EP already being alert to possible wrongdoing after the Saudi Arabia training scandal at the College little over a year ago.
Mogherini is caught in the middle of this, and will start her term as Rector under a massive cloud. Were she to make efforts to improve communication and transparency she will be going against the very behaviour of the people who appointed her, so I expect no sluicing of the stables. And while I know I ethically did the right thing here (none of the questions I have legitimately raised in my earlier post and in the open letter have been answered), my own future at the College of Europe is now fraught. Do I want to be associated with a place that behaves in this way? Do they want me? Can I teach about good governance and transparency and accountability in an institution incapable of practicing the same? I am not sure.
There were so many ways to avoid this problem, and the arrogance and ham fisted communication by the College about what has happened makes me mad. There is a case to be made for a political Rector of the College of Europe, rather than someone with an academic background. But if you want that, change the job description. Had Herman Van Rompuy (Chair of the Selection Committee and Chair of the Administrative Council) clearly and honestly said a few months back “OK, we think this ought to be a political position. We’re re-writing the job description. Anyone from round 1 can re-apply, but the criteria are different now, and we are re-starting the procedure”, there might have been a few grumbles, but pretty much everyone – myself included – could have at least been partially reassured. Instead secrecy abounded for months, and Mogherini has been appointed in contravention of the College’s own stated criteria – and that suits no-one. And when the statement comes from the College tomorrow, no doubt it will be bland and anodyne and will not answer any of the questions anyone has been raising, mounting suspicion still further.
In the end all of this also damages the EU. It’s pretty weird for me to be on the side of Martin Sonneborn, and Lega and Rassemblement National MEPs, who have been airing legitimate criticisms of how all of this has been handled, and not be able to defend an institution that has been central to schooling thousands of people who have ended up working for EU institutions. And many of those alumni were of course aware that what was going on was untoward, but preferred to keep their heads down rather than raise the alarm.
And all of this seems to have come to pass because one ex-Belgian Prime Minister for some reason did not seem to like five qualified people who applied for a job, and preferred his own choice of an unqualified one instead.
Above all that is just sad.
[UPDATE 15.5.2020, 0930]
Politico has revealed the date Mogherini was interviewed in this piece, so I have altered Paragraph 4 of this blog post accordingly. I did not know when or if Mogherini had been interviewed when I wrote my piece, but that is now known and has been corrected.
TRANSPARENCY NOTE: I have been teaching at the College of Europe in Bruges for 5 years. I teach the Negotiation Simulation (compulsory course, taught with 2 others) and a short optional course entitled “Online Communications in EU Policy-Making“, both courses in the Politics Department (there are also Law, Economics and International Relations and Diplomacy departments in Bruges). I am one of the “flying faculty” (or in my case ludicrously-long-train-rides faculty) – I am not based in Bruges, but go there only for the time required to teach my courses. I have never taught at the Natolin campus, or for any course other than the Politics course. I have never met and do not know Federica Mogherini, and I once met Herman Van Rompuy at an event almost a decade ago but do not know him. What I write below is no commendation of the candidature of anyone in the running to be Rector. I am writing purely in a personal capacity.