A former high-ranking official with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is threatening to take Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) to Danish court to settle an employment dispute.
Pentti Väänänen, a native of Finland who spent 12 years as the deputy secretary general of the OSCE PA, said he was unjustly dismissed last December after he expressed interest in succeeding his boss, Secretary General Spencer Oliver.
Väänänen contends that Oliver and Hastings — who was appointed president of the international organization last summer — treated him unfairly by concocting allegations against him and denying him the right to explain his version of events.
The OSCE is a 55-nation organization of mostly European nations that focuses on security issues, ranging from arms control and diplomacy to human rights and election monitoring. The PA, headquartered in Copenhagen, is the 317-member parliamentary body of the OSCE, which focuses on fostering interparliamentary dialogue and the improvement of the democratic process throughout the OSCE area.
Väänänen vigorously disputes that he conducted a quiet campaign to succeed Oliver and used the OSCE PA’s resources to do so.
“I am intending to take legal action,” Väänänen confirmed in an e-mail this week. “I am preparing the matter with my Danish lawyer.”
Hastings, for his part, flatly rejected Väänänen’s arguments and defended Oliver’s decision to fire Väänänen in an interview this week.
Hastings said the revelations that Väänänen was interested in Oliver’s job “would be similar to [my chief of staff] telling me that he’s going to run for my seat in the United States Congress.”
However the dispute is resolved, the brouhaha between the Finnish native and Oliver — a former Capitol Hill aide who previously served as chief of staff of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and chief counsel to what was then known as the House Foreign Affairs Committee — has been wreaking havoc internally in the past several weeks.
“It all comes about in a way that is in fact disruptive of the process of the organization,” said Hastings, adding that he is not letting it get in the way of business. “I work on Capitol Hill. I’ve learned to rise above all sorts of personnel difficulties and go about my business and do the things that are required.”
The 59-year-old Väänänen said he decided to make a bid for Oliver’s job when rumors began circulating last fall that Oliver would be retiring at the end of 2005. Other members of the Finnish delegation supported his move.
The trouble began when Oliver decided not to retire.
On Dec. 3 — the same day that Oliver informed Väänänen he intended to seek reappointment to another five-year term — Väänänen told him he had intended to seek Oliver’s position, with the backing of Finnish officials.
“The Secretary General reacted by offering to me two options: to resign immediately or to be dismissed. I rejected both,” Väänänen stated in a Feb. 6 letter to Hastings.
Väänänen also rejected allegations that he had been campaigning against the secretary general.
“No such campaigning ever took place. The accusation is false. The only persons in this world who seem to have ‘knowledge’ about this mysterious ‘campaigning’ appear to be the Secretary General and yourself,” Väänänen wrote.
But Hastings insisted this week that his estranged Finnish friend is wrong.
“Pentti would say to you that he did not do that. I’m saying to you that I know that he did, and I know that he did because of the number of e-mails that he communicated using equipment right there in the office — communication with people that had a hand in making the decision,” Hastings said.
Officially, the OSCE PA declined to provide much detail, stating merely that Väänänen was dismissed for “failure to perform his duty.”
“This was an internal personnel matter which, as far as the International Secretariat of the OSCE PA is concerned, has been concluded,” Jan R.M. Jooren, counsellor to the OSCE PA, told Roll Call.
Väänänen says he is not about to let the matter drop and is exploring all his legal options, which could include suing Hastings or pursuing an arbitration process.
“At this point, there is no lawsuit pending,” Hastings said. “However, Pentti has threatened both in the conversation with me and according to the secretary general in his communication with him.” Hastings added that “that is his right. I don’t know the rules of the court system in Denmark, but if he wishes to go to court, then so be it.”
Hastings said he is eager to put the whole episode behind him so he can resume his focus on the organization’s main business.
A Hastings spokesman added that the Florida Democrat went out of his way to hire Väänänen’s daughter, Eeva, as an intern in his office on Capitol Hill last year.
“She interned here from last January through June or July and had a wonderful experience,” Hastings spokesman Fred Turner said.
Like Hastings, Väänänen said he is puzzled by the actions of his American friends. “I really cannot see how their behavior could improve the trans-Atlantic relations,” he said.
CORRECTION: A headline in the Feb. 9 issue mislabeled the status of a dispute involving Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) in his capacity as president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The headline, “Alcee Hastings Sued by Ex-Parliamentary Colleague,” should have indicated that the former colleague has not yet filed a suit but is rather “intending to” do so, as he is quoted in the story as saying.