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Short shortlist for ECHA executive director post criticised

Three European NGOs are seeking an internal review of the European Commission’s process to short-list candidates for the post of executive director of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) after it put forward just two names: the current interim executive director Geert Dancet and the UK’s deputy permanent representative in Brussels, Anne Lambert.

A third candidate, widely expected to be shortlisted and who commanded the strong support of NGOs in particular, was Ethel Forsberg, the long-standing director general of the Swedish Chemicals Agency. She had notified ECHA’s management board, of which she is a member, of her application for the post in July so that she could exclude herself from any discussion of the candidacy in line with the board’s governance rules.

While expressing her disappointment at not being shortlisted and concern at the wisdom of such a limited choice, Ms Forsberg magnanimously described both the selected candidates as “excellent”.

Chemical Watch has heard that several other member states also expressed concern at being given just two candidates to consider. However, they did not decide to take the matter any further formally.

The board spent several hours interviewing Mr Dancet and Ms Lambert and will now continue their discussions off-site before returning to vote in mid-October. A two-thirds majority is needed to select a candidate who will then be vetted by the European Parliament. Chemical Watch has interviewed both candidates and will publish profiles of them in a special news alert shortly.

Friends of the Earth Europe, the Health and Environmental Alliance and the European Environmental Bureau are each seeking a review under the EU 2006 Regulation on public access to information and participation in decision-making. It allows qualifying NGOs to seek an internal review of an administrative act by any EU institution under environmental law.

The NGOs argue that the executive director’s post is likely to be crucial “in ensuring the legitimate and credible functioning of the Agency” which in turn will have an impact on implementation of the REACH Regulation which is important for health and environmental protection.

Under the terms of the public access Regulation, the Commission has 12 weeks in which to respond to their request. However, the NGOs have asked for expedited consideration of their case given that the ECHA management board is due to vote on candidates so soon.

In a letter to the president of the European Commission, Friends of the Earth Europe’s interim director Paul de Clerck accuses the institution of “arbitrarily eliminating” suitable candidates who, had they been included, “could have provided a more balanced range of choices for the management board.”

FoE Europe says it is concerned about Mr Dancet’s independence from the European Commission. It is also concerned that the other candidate Ms Lambert is not close enough to the chemicals agenda.

A spokesperson for the Commission’s Directorate-General for Administration insisted that the usual “very thorough” process had been followed in drawing up the shortlist, with the college of Commissioners making the final selection to be proposed. The process had included “extensive interviews” with all applicants and careful consideration of their qualifications. ECHA’s management board had not complained, she concluded, so “why should it be reviewed?”

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