The prestigious College of Europe has defended the imminent appointment of former EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini as its new Rector.
This comes despite a “cronyism” row over the appointment of the Italian, who was also Vice-President of the European Commission.
If confirmed, she will start work on 1 September and would be the first female Rector of the College.
The College’s Administrative Council will meet on 26 May to make a final decision, but some teachers at the institution remain angry at her appointment, with one saying it “smacks of royal entitlement.”
Alberto Alemanno, who teaches at the College, which is widely seen as a “training ground” for the EU elite, tweeted, “The appointment of the first female rector to one of the oldest and finest EU higher education institution should be a cause for celebration not contestation. Yet Federica Mogherini’s pick smacks of royal entitlement.”
Jon Worth, another College of Europe teacher, said there has been a “lack of transparency” in the process of her appointment and claims Mogherini “does not comply with the stated criteria for the position.”
“The appointment of the first female rector to one of the oldest and finest EU higher education institution should be a cause for celebration not contestation. Yet Federica Mogherini’s pick smacks of royal entitlement” Alberto Alemanno
He added, “Mogherini is caught in the middle of this and will start her term as Rector under a massive cloud.”
Green MEPs have, meanwhile, written a letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about alleged “conflicts of interest” regarding the appointment.
Critics have also complained about the role of Herman Van Rompuy, a former Council President who chairs a selection committee at the College, based in Bruges.
Despite the continuing furore, the College has made a robust defence of its role in the saga, with Glenn Bogaert, its press and communications officer, issuing a long statement.
It says that after current Rector, Prof. Jörg Monar, decided to leave on 31 August 2020, the College launched, in June 2019, the selection procedure for a new Rector.
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“After the deadline of 30 September 2019 for applications for the position the Selection Committee, chaired by Herman Van Rompuy, first established a short-list of five candidates and then interviewed those candidates on 27 November 2019. While each of these candidates had his or her own qualities none of them could sufficiently convince a majority of the members of the Selection Committee.”
“In its session of 6 December 2019, the Academic Council, of which President Van Rompuy is not a member, therefore considered it necessary to establish a Search Committee in order to enlarge the pool of candidates by identifying and contacting new candidates.”
It goes on to say that on 12 February the Selection Committee unanimously agreed to interview “only one additional” candidate - Mogherini - and this took place on 30 April after “a certain delay occasioned by her need to have her candidature cleared under the European Commission’s Code of Conduct procedure.”
“The Selection Committee then came to the unanimous conclusion that Mrs Mogherini offered the best combination of qualities of all six interviewed candidates in view of leading the College, and proposed her to the Academic Council for appointment.”
“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” Jon Worth
“The Administrative Council will meet on 26 May to take the final decision.”
Prof. Jörg Monar added, “Although not personally involved in the selection of my successor – I have been neither a member of the Selection nor of the Search Committee – it is part of my responsibilities as Rector to serve as the guardian of the College statutory procedures.”
“In this capacity I would like to formally assert that the selection process has proceeded entirely in line with the statutes of the College, that the lead role of the Academic Council in the process has been constantly respected, and that none of the members of the Selection Committee has indicated to me any attempt of her/him having been subject to any form of external influencing.”
Worth, who teaches politics at the college, remains angry about the appointment, saying, “To say she ‘was presented as the only candidate’ is a little ambiguous. The Academic Council was given a choice to approve her or not but it was known there had been other candidates.”
He added, “All of this seems to have come to pass because one ex-Belgian Prime Minister [Van Rompuy] 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.”
Van Rompuy was not immediately available for comment.