“August 20th marks the first anniversary of the saddest day in the history of our institution. It was a year ago when we learned that the European Data Protection Supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli died in hospital in Milan, losing a long fight against a horrible disease. Though a whole year has already passed, and the world in Covid-19 times looks different than it was in August 2019, it is still hard for me to find the words to describe my feelings that day and to summarize somehow our long friendship with Giovanni.
I have read again the blog post I wrote a year ago and I still subscribe to each word I wrote. So let me refer you again to this text”.
I have been working with Giovanni or for Giovanni over the last twenty years so it is difficult for me to select one single memory. One of the most vivid memories I have is the day when the LIBE Committee (Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) voted in the new Supervisor in December 2014. The weeks and months that preceded this vote were very hard for him because, in one of those unexplainable decisions by the selection panel put together by the Commission, Giovanni was not included in the short-listing of candidates (the selection procedure was later annulled and the vacancy notice republished). He was already the Assistant Supervisor so he felt very insulted personally and had to live in a kind of professional limbo for one year with a lot of uncertainty about his future. Giovanni persevered nevertheless, applied again, and on the day of the vote in the LIBE Committee, he listened to the casting of the votes over the internet. I came into his room just at the moment when he realised that he had won the election and he started crying. The following day we went to Madrid for a meeting with the Spanish Minister of Justice and a talk in the University of San Pablo CEU, invited by the former Director of the Spanish Data Protection Authority Jose Luis Piñar, and we celebrated together. He felt vindicated and the future looked bright and full of promises.
"Giovanni Buttarelli was and will be, for me, the visionary EU leader who has always implemented the motto "THINK BIG"! He was bold enough to bring Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) and Koen Lenaerts (President of the Court of Justice of the EU) to the table and with his calm charm and human smile, he made them recognise that data protection is a prime concern for businesses and case law respectively. The apotheosis of his ambitious and courageous visionary agenda was the organisation of the International Conference on Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC) in Brussels. At the beginning of this big idea, no one believed in it and no one encouraged him. He was then so touched and emotionally proud when his counterparts and other collaborators recognised the tremendous success that the Conference was, with more than 1000 participants and prestigious speakers".
Dear Giovanni, it has been a year since you left us. Time flies inexorably. How to forget this warm and sometimes mischievous look, your smile, your brilliant intelligence? Working for you was an honour and a pleasure, Giovanni. The corridors of the EDPS no longer sound the same way since your departure. This great void has of course been filled, but I miss something indefinable. I know that somewhere in the sky shines a star, which is finally at peace, but your presence remains alive for a number of us. Ciao Giovanni.
I met Giovanni for the first time at my job interview in 2009. He was already the Assistant Supervisor. At first glance, he was attractive, and I quickly understood that he was very ambitious and smart as well. He knew that his time would come, and it happened like that: in December 2014, he was appointed as the European Data Protection Supervisor by the Council and the European Parliament. The road to heaven to push through his own vision, and shine on the highest European and international stages. My first trip with him outside of Europe was to Washington, where I quickly realised that he could adapt to all audiences and cultures. He was requested everywhere on the tech scene, and had an opinion on everything he was asked about. He was flattered when asked to sign his strategy brochure and when he was called the "George Clooney of data protection".
In my area of external communication, Giovanni has allowed the EDPS to reach new dimensions. The sky was the limit. We changed everything, from the institution logo to the organisation of the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), including the creation of a GDPR app and a brand new website. Giovanni even requested to contact the singer Stromae when he released his hit about the dark side of social media, and his dearest desire was to show himself in the company of people who matter in the public scene. Tim Cook even became his friend.
Giovanni, we miss you so much. Your incomparable personality will remain engraved forever.
Watch video paying tribute to the life of Giovanni Buttarelli.