The College of Europe appointed former EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini as its new rector, the College announced Tuesday.
An “overwhelming majority” of members of the College’s administrative council approved Mogherini’s appointment, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting. The College did not confirm further details to POLITICO about the decision.
The school’s highest decision-making body, which is chaired by former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and features a handful of ambassadors and College staff, approved Mogherini’s candidacy despite cries of cronyism from alumni, professors and EU officials. They believed Mogherini, a former MP who briefly served as Italian foreign affairs minister, was not qualified for the post, did not meet the criteria and entered the race months after the deadline.
Tuesday’s decision took place weeks after the College’s academic council recommended Mogherini’s candidacy to the administrative council after she was presented as the only candidate. She will be the first female rector of the College, which is based in the Belgian city of Bruges and also has a campus in Poland.
Last year, about 30 candidates applied for the rectorship of the College, which offers master’s degrees in various subjects for fees of €25,000 per year covering tuition, board and lodging. Mogherini’s interest in the position first came to light after the European Commission published official approval of her application on April 22.
Critics say the College’s process of selecting its next leader has not been transparent, and that Mogherini, who has a degree in political science from Rome’s La Sapienza University, did not fit the job description published by the College. Many point the finger at Van Rompuy, a former prime minister of Belgium, who led the selection process.
An open letter expressing “concern and regret about the way the procedure to recruit a new Rector of the College has been handled and communicated” drew over 150 signatories, most of whom state they are alumni of the College.
The outcry over her candidacy prompted counter-protests, including an online petition (which had 51 signatures at the time of publication) defending the College’s selection process. It claims the criteria laid out in the job description should not be considered as “rigid check-box-style rules that inhibit the selection process.” It states that Mogherini’s “contribution to development of the European Union external policy and the legacy she left … within the EU system are the key proof of her high-qualifications for the position in question.”
Mogherini will start her new role on September 1.