Thursday, April 5, 2012

Was Josep Borrell a good choice for the EUI? (by Pedja dell’Arno)

Josep Borell has resigned as President of the European University Institute in Florence after his failure to declare to the High Council of the Institute that he was earning money as Director of a Spanish private sector firm in the alternative energy sector. I am told that the selection process was tough and competitive, and that he was mainly selected for his potential ability to raise funds for the Institute as a former President of the European Parliament.
Perhaps there is a fatidic trilemma between trying to be a politician, an academic and a company director at the same time. There are many cases of individuals choosing simultaneously two of these activities, but I know of no-one doing the three of them simultaneously. One can argue that Borrell is no longer a politician since he left the European Parliament after the past election. However, he has been active in political debate in Spain, regularly writing opinion articles in popular newspapers and endorsing a candidate in the recent Congress of the Spanish Socialist Party (the one that lost, Carme Chacón). Perhaps when the EUI’s High Council chose Borrell, they thought that his agitated political career was over. But actually before he was President of the European Parliament he already announced once that he was retiring from politics.
It is difficult to be at the same time active in politics and an academic, but clearly some individuals manage to do both, not without keeping a difficult and sometimes heroic balance. There are many doubts about the ethical condition (especially in the left) of those that perform a simultaneous role as company directors and as (retired? retiring?) politicians, but the practice is now widespread. But Borrell wanted to go beyond this, trying to be the three things at the same time.
One can see how the tendency of Borrell to voice his high profile opinions on many current economic issues would conflict with an Economics Department at the EUI that is focused on scientific economic research. One can also see how his role as director of a private sector energy company would cause a conflict of interests  with the increasing role of the EUI in regulatory matters. For example, Borrell was scheduled to speak in the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence on May 10th on a major conference on European energy. Would he be free to speak his mind on the balance between public funds and the promotion of alternative energies?

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