Commission defends controversial Selmayr promotion

Selmayr and his predecessor, Alexander Italianer, in a 28 February 2018 photo. [Commission]

The European Commission on Sunday (25 March) insisted the controversial promotion of President Jean-Claude Juncker’s top aide was “in full compliance” with rules, and not even a promotion, despite a growing cronyism row.

The Commission said there was nothing untoward about the elevation of Juncker’s former chief of staff Martin Selmayr to the post of secretary general, which will seem him head the EU’s 30,000-strong civil service.

Eighty pages of answers to MEP questions were published at 3AM early on Sunday morning, when the clocks were wound one hour forward for daylight savings time.

The scandal has gained momentum in recent weeks with the European Parliament launching an investigation and warning the affair risks fuelling Eurosceptics around the continent.

But the Commission insisted Selmayr’s appointment was above board and had the full backing of all EU Commissioners.

“The decision was taken by the college of Commissioners unanimously, in full compliance with the staff regulations and the rules of procedure of the commission,” the EU executive said in a written response to a list of 134 questions posed by MEPs.

MEP Ingeborg Gräßle (EPP, Germany), the chair of the European Parliament’s Budget Control Committee, the body which will debate on Selmayr’s appointment on Tuesday (27 March), reacted against what she called “paternalistic interference”.

“We already knew your opinion. Our duty is to come to an own assessment”, she tweeted.

The row centres on what critics say was effectively an instantaneous double promotion for 47-year-old Selmayr, on 21 February.

During a single meeting of Commissioners, Selmayr was made first deputy secretary general and then just minutes later secretary general when the incumbent, Alexander Italianer, suddenly announced his retirement.

The Commission has repeatedly said that the procedure for the appointment of Selmayr as Secretary General has been “religiously followed”.

‘Destroys all credibility’

The Commission confirmed that Juncker had known of Italianer’s plan to retire as early as 2015 and had told Selmayr about it.

But it rejected claims that Juncker and Selmayr had cooked up a plan in November last year to bounce the German into the secretary general role.

It said that technically Selmayr had not been promoted, as he remains on the same civil service grade as before, and that he had taken a pay cut in switching jobs.

As well as the parliamentary probe, the EU Ombudsman, which investigates allegations of malpractice in European institutions, has also confirmed it has received two complaints about the matter and is analysing them.

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a leading liberal member of the European Parliament, said earlier this month the affair “destroys all the credibility of the EU as a champion of integrity and transparency”.

The Commission has denied suggestions the Selmayr process lacked transparency.

And it refused to engage with MEPs’ demands about the damage the affair has done to the EU’s reputation, saying repeatedly it “does not agree with the premise underlying” the questions.

Juncker insisted on Friday that Selmayr “will not step down”, after party sources said he had threatened to quit if Selmayr was forced out.

At the final presser of the summit on Friday Juncker was asked if it was correctly reported that he would step down if Selmayr is forced to leave, and if this would not increase the appetite of the Parliament to put him down, because they would “get two for the price of one”.

“As Mr Selmayr will not step down, because I’m the only one being capable to ask him to step down, the other question is irrelevant,” Juncker answered.

Spiegel Online quoted budget Commissiner Günther  Oettinger having said that “without Selmayr, Juncker is helpless”.

On 19 April in Strasbourg, MEPs will vote on a resolution on the Selmayr case that has the potential to put down the entire Commission.

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) tweeted that it would be better if Selmayr resigns.

“In a pre-election year like the current one, neglecting to clear up such a massive scandal may prove fatal not only for the sitting Commission but also for electoral turnout and choices in 2019,” the research and campaign group wrote.

Asked about Selmayr at the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear he wanted “the truth” and “consequences would have to be drawn” if needed after the EU parliament’s questions.

Conversely, Merkel also called for transparency, but said she held Selmayr’s work in “high esteem”.

During the summit Selmayr didn’t make his case easier, by attending an EPP pre-summit meeting, together with Juncker.

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