Friday, 24 January 2014

EDPS appointment confusion clarified

Brussels is a wonderful place to meet new chums and exchange views, gossip and intrigue. Last night, I was able to enjoy the company of an extremely experienced (and discrete) Commission insider who presented me with an extremely convincing overview of the current situation regarding the appointment of a successor to Peter Hustinx, the outgoing European Data Protection Supervisor.

First, the facts. The Commission is stuffed with sophisticated administrators who carry out their tasks in an extremely professional manner. They try hard to take full account of the particular sensitivities of a very diverse range of stakeholders. They can’t please everyone all of the time. And I admire their integrity and dedication to trying to do what they consider to be in the best interests of the European community. Many of them are extremely polished performers. They don’t often make mistakes.

Next, the politics. Getting the timing of all major Commission appointments right is an impossible task. High-fliers who are earmarked for particular jobs often encounter difficulties when making themselves available at a time that suits both their current, and their future, boss.

And that is what has happened in this case. While the term of the European Data Protection Supervisor is supposed to have expired last week, the individual whom I understand has been earmarked for the job is currently so valuable to their current boss that it is highly unlikely that they will be available to serve as EDPS until this autumn.

If my source is right – and they helpfully shared with me (in confidence) the name of their nominee – I see the logic behind that explanation. This individual currently has an extremely important role, and I can see why it is that their boss would not wish to dispense with their services at this precise time. I can also see why their boss would not like the name of that candidate to become widely known just yet.

Even the European Commision’s transparency agenda contains the odd exception. Like, when it relates to the European Commission.

So, the stage is set for a rerun of the selection process. This individual will apply, and will sail through the “What is your vision of the future role of the EDPS question when it is asked by the anonymous selection panel.  A newly elected European Parliament will nod the appointment through, the usual suspects will issue a collective groan, and the new EDPS will thank Peter Hustinx for so kindly (and so expertly) keeping the seat warm.

As a mild diversionary tactic, I understand that Peter Hustinx has let it be known that as it only takes nine months for a couple to create a new human being, he will formally resign from his post if he has not been replaced by the end of October.

Fear not, Peter.  If I were you, I would safely book a holiday in the fjords next October. Your services as EDPS won’t be required by then.  The die has been cast. The European Commission knows what it is doing, and what it wants, and for all I know it has probably already pencilled a date in the calendar for the formal announcement of your successor.

It’s a sophisticated machine, the European Commission. And, in the end, all will turn out for the good.

(For the European Commission, that is.)