Progress towards the founding of Europe's Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been closely followed by Foodnavigator.com, including an interview this week with the freshly appointed spokesman for the EFSA, Andrew Stimpson. As such, it was with interest this week that on the occasion of the first meeting of the new EFSA board on Wednesday, we read an article in the Wall Street Journal on the subject.
The writer, Brandon Mitchener, highlights the fact that the EFSA has yet to have an official headquarters because European governments could not decide between Helsinki, Finland; Parma, Italy; and other candidates lobbying to be host. What is worse, he writes, the agency does not have an executive director yet. What he must add is that, under terms of the EFSA structure, nomination for the executive director is the step after the creation of the management board. It is the board that nominates the new executive director and as the board is only meeting for the first time this week clearly there is no director as yet in place. Andrew Stimpson assured FoodNavigator.com that progress for EFSA progress was within the timescale given by the European Parliament.
It is, however, of interest that Mitchener highlights the fact that the process leading up to the selection of the agency's location and leadership has 'fuelled criticism that the agency's independence is at risk.'
He writes that the agency's board will elect a chairman and executive chairman from within its own ranks at this week's meeting, as well as discuss a short-list of three candidates for executive director. It is the case that neither the names of the candidates has been made public, nor has the process by which about 200 applicants were eliminated from the list.
The election of the new management board drew sharp criticism from consumer organisations in Europe. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article quoted Jim Murray director of the European Consumers' Organisation as saying, " It's difficult to believe that these guys, when they take the train to Brussels, will act against the views of their own national governments."
On the topic of location the article states that the agency's 'location limbo has led to criticism that it will be too dependent on the European Commission, the EU's executive agency.'
"If they rent a building [in Brussels] they'll never get out again, and it'll be seen as part of Byrne's department," the WSJ report quotes Robert Baerber, president of the Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the EU, who is referring to European Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne. According to the WSJ, Baerber thinks the agency should be located far from Brussels.
Speaking at the inaugural management board meeting on Wednesday any nod to the location of the EFSA was certainly conspicuous by its absence in the speech given by Commissioner Byrne. But in closing his speech Byrne used stirring vocabulary to inspire the new board when he said: " Today you have the opportunity to start building a flagship organisation, pre-eminent in the world on food safety matters, recognised for its scientific excellence, its openness, and trusted for its integrity." Let's hope this is, indeed, the case.