European Commission defends Mogherini appointment as College of Europe rector

Critics say the appointment, which is yet to be approved, would constitute a possible conflict of interest since Mogherini has networks in the EU executive.

Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

06 May 2020


The possible appointment of former EU High Representative Federica Mogherini as Rector at the College of Europe at Bruges has led to accusations that she “has no competence for the job.”

A senior teacher at the college, along with a former student, are among those who have questioned Mogherini's credentials for the post, said to carry salary of €14,000 per month.

Critics say the full-time appointment, yet to be approved but due to take effect from 1 September, should be referred to the Commission’s Ethical Committee.


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Mogherini was High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission from 2014-2019. The College was founded in 1949 to train "professionals from Europe" and has long been seen as a launch pad for a career in the EU.

Jon Worth, who has taught politics at the College for five years, said, “The problem is that she does not comply with the criteria the College has set for the position. She has never run an academic structure, complex or not.”

He adds, “Is Mogherini really going to commit full time to this position and spend her time dealing with matters as tedious as problems with the canteen or disputes over the footnotes in theses?”

“The problem is that she does not comply with the criteria the College has set for the position. She has never run an academic structure, complex or not” Jon Worth

“You can make a case for a political Rector of the College - someone well connected in Brussels, a smooth operator in the corridors of power. Mogherini is definitely that. Indeed Rectors of the College were, up until 2001, that sort of person.”

“But if that is the aim, then say so. Rewrite the job description for the position accordingly, restructure the College accordingly and bring those of us who teach and learn there into that process.”

Worth goes on, “Mogherini’s candidature does not fulfil the stipulated and official criteria and if she does eventually emerge as the successful candidate it’s going to require a lot of work to explain why someone who does not comply with the stated criteria were appointed.”

“Those questions would of course have to be answered by the Chair of the Selection Committee, Herman Van Rompuy.”

Further comment comes from a former alumnus of the college, who studied there from 1999-2000. He told this website he was “shocked” by the appointment, saying, “Since education was not part of her (EEAS) portfolio, the Commission appears to have decided that she does not have to go through the Committee of Ethics.”

“I cannot understand that it [the College] now considers hiring a person who has a remarkable CV but no competence for the job and probably no capacity to be full-time in Bruges. Being a Rector is not an honorary function” former College of Europe student

“This is highly problematic: as a Vice-President she had a transversal competence and thus a say on key financial decisions.”

The former student said he did not wish to be named as he works as an EU civil servant at one of the institutions in Brussels.

He said, “The Commission President has backed the application of a former Vice-President to be rector of an institution directly funded by the Commission. But Mogherini does not even fit the profile as she has strictly no academic record and nor did she respect the procedure as the call had a deadline of 30 September 2019.”

“This is a clear breach of the status of commissioners and an obvious case of revolving doors."

He adds, “The Mogherini air-dropping sounds very odd to me. The rector has three main tasks, including supervising the academic choices and organisation of the college, that is, making sure it is a top-notch institution regarding teaching and research. But she has strictly no competence or experience to do so.”

“Another task is doing the day-to-day micro-management as there is no general secretary at the College. But she has no sufficient knowledge of the college administration and organisation for that and probably no intention to involve herself in issues regarding the canteen, residences or IT services, which is an important part of the rector’s activities.”

“She [Mogherini] requested authorisation for the application and also for taking up the position if selected. After evaluating the compatibility of this potential activity with the post term of office obligations of former members of the Commission, the College approved the request” European Commission spokesman

“The College is a non-profit foundation that has scarce resources. I have over the years personally contributed to its funding. I cannot understand that it now considers hiring a person who has a remarkable CV but no competence for the job and probably no capacity to be full-time in Bruges. Being a Rector is not an honorary function.”

On 26 April, La Liberation, the leading daily French newspaper, ran a critical article on the nomination which said that the EU “finances up to 50 percent of the college” - an estimated “€12 million a year.”

Despite the criticism, the Commission has made a robust defence of the appointment procedure, with a spokesman telling this website that it was Mogherini who had “notified her interest” to the executive to apply for the position of rector.

The spokesman said, “She requested authorisation for the application and also for taking up the position if selected. After evaluating the compatibility of this potential activity with the post term of office obligations of former members of the Commission, the College approved the request.”

“The decision is published on a dedicated website as are all decisions on the post-mandate activities of former commissioners. There is no backing or support for her application by the decision. It merely checks if this is compliant with her post-mandate obligations. Whether she applies in the end or whether she is appointed is entirely her decision and the decision of the College of Europe.”

The Commission spokesman added, “The independent Ethical Committee was not consulted. The fact that Federica Mogherini was a member of the college does not trigger automatically a consultation of the committee if there is no specific link with her former responsibilities.”

An internal note on the issue, dated 22 April, by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reads, “The College of Europe was fully aware of the duties imposed on former members of the European Commission and the provisions of the Code of Conduct which result in a number of restrictions, namely as concerns any influencing on decisions on EU funding allocations and related lobbying of members.”

“From the college’s perspective, a ‘potential appointment’ of Ms Mogherini as Rector (from 1 September 2020 onwards) would not comprise any potential for infringement of these duties and restriction.”

It adds, “The nature of the envisaged activity is not linked to Ms Mogherini’s former responsibilities as Commission Vice-President in charge of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.”

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