Una O’Dwyer

yachtThe late Derek Taylor, the Beatles’s spin doctor, once declared that you should ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’ In my case, as an ’empirical’ political scientist writing a PhD thesis about the European Parliament, it was more a case of not letting my subject matter get in the way of a good PhD thesis. After three years of research and some scribbling I suddenly realised that this was completely potty and so in 1985 I headed north from the European University Institute (Florence) to Brussels to do a six-month traineeship at the European Commission in a new Directorate responsible for relations with the other institutions (including the European Parliament). Three years later, I returned to the directorate as a young official. In the meantime, the Single European Act had been ratified and implemented and a feisty young Irish lady, Una O’Dwyer, had joined the directorate. She had previously served in the Irish permanent representation as an ‘Antici’ (you’ll have to look up Westlake and Galloway if you want to know what an ‘Antici’ is). Una saw immediately that the cooperation procedure introduced by the Single European Act was the not-so-thin end of a very thick wedge, and that the Commission would have to start adapting itself and its procedures to the growing legislative powers of the European Parliament. Her skills honed in the Council and Coreper, Una became a doughty defender of the Commission’s collegiality and sole right of legislative initiative. Over the next seven years we became close colleagues, working cheek-by-jowl in Brussels and Strasbourg. In the meantime, Una, together with a Belgian colleague, became ‘Ms Co-decision Procedure’. As such, she was a landmark to generations of bright young things in Commissioners’ cabinets and a ready source of steady advice. She won the respect of her interlocuteurs in the other institutions, perhaps particularly the Parliament, where a generation of committed revolutionaries soon grew to respect her similar commitment to the European Commission’s unique role. Una was the complete professional. But she was also Irish – and that meant friendship, humour, culture, sentiment and romanticism to go alongside the hard work and conscientiousness. She listed poetry and sailing as her hobbies and I lost count of the number of Irish coffees we drank to round off Thursday evening dinners at the Pig’s Head in Strasbourg. Well, this evening I went to Una’s retirement party at the Berlaymont. Retirement! To imagine the Commission Secretariat General without Una is a bit like imagining Westminster without Big Ben or Paris without the Eiffel Tower. Una is clearly serene and happy to be moving on (she sang her own version of the Wild Rover with the refrain ‘will I work in the SecGen, no never, no more’) but I am sure I wasn’t the only official there to have felt that ‘Brussels’ and the institutions were not only losing a distinctive personality and good friend but also an institution of sorts.


  1. Una O'Dwyer

    Tipped off by a colleague, Í’ve only just read this generous resumé of my career in the Commission SG. It was great fun and I especially enjoyed the company of colleagues like you, Martin. Let’s stay in touch.

  2. Martin

    Let’s indeed, Una. Take care and enjoy! Martin

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