Delayed choice of EC head in Malta betrays political jockeying for influence

Lorenzo Vella will be next EC head of representation in Malta after selection process of over a year, MEP David Casa says process was rife with speculation of political pressure

Lorenzo Vella
Lorenzo Vella

A highly-protracted process to select the European Commission’s head of representation in Malta has come to an end, with Lorenzo Vella picked by Brussels to take up the post in Valletta.

Vella was until recently the Permanent Representative of Malta to the Council of Europe, since 2021.

But Nationalist MEP David Casa has stated that the process has long been rife with speculation about pressures applied to influence the outcome, due to the circuitous manner in which the selection took place.

Behind the scenes, the jockeying for political influence inside the Maltese representation was apparent from the beginning, when a certain number of four shortlisted candidates appeared to carry favour from different sectors of the Maltese party landscape.

Lorenzo Vella, formerly deputy permanent representative of Malta to the EU and later a chief of staff to deputy prime ministrer Chris Fearne, was one of the initially shortlisted candidates.

On one hand, the Maltese government was keen to push its own candidate to the position of Head of Representation in Valletta; other candidates counted on the support of the Nationalist Party’s luminaries in the European Parliament.

But the process stalled in early 2022, when the shortlist of four male candidates from Malta was met with disfavour in Brussels for not having any women.

One candidate dropped out of the contest later in the year after obtaining a high-level promotion in the civil service, while at least three women were added to the shortlist after the first selection for consideration.

In February 2022, Nationalist MEP David Casa expressed his concern in a letter to the EC’s secretary-general: two calls had been issued, first within the Commission, then an inter-institutional call, but the process had started well ten months before the departure of the then-incumbent.

“No candidates that applied were deemed suitable for the post, paving the way for a candidate to be selected through an open call as a temporary agent, contrary to what I understand to be the Commission’s policy to avoid the recruitment of temporary agents to these posts,” Casa told the EC secretariat.

“The timing of the first calls, the inability to find a suitable candidate from among those that applied and the choice of grade for the public call raise questions about the integrity of this process. Can you provide me with assurances that this process has been conducted in a correct and transparent manner in conformity with the standards of good administration expected from the European Commission?” Casa asked.

Now Casa has once again alerted the European Commission to procedural concerns concerning the appointment of the European Commission Head of Representation in Valletta.

The position is important in terms of who gets to not just represent the European Commission’s presence in Malta, but also how the image of Malta is portrayed in certain quarters in Brussels.

“Speculation has been rife that the Maltese government has been strongly pushing particular candidates for selection,” Casa said in a statement today, reminding of the active rule of law issues that have curtailed the independence of public institutions. “The Maltese people expect their rights to be defended through the EU Commission as guardian of the treaties. Therefore the integrity of the process for the selection of the new Head of Representation should be fully safeguarded.”

Lorenzo Vella is a former policy officer in the DG Employment in Brussels, where he provided advice on the employment policies of the Maltese government. In 2014 he moved to the Permanent Representation of Malta to the EU as technical attaché, and during the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, chaired the Social Questions Working Party. In 2017, Vella was appointed deputy permanent representative of Malta to the EU, before returning to Malta in 2020 as chief of staff to deputy prime minister Chris Fearne.