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.
Selmayr investigation: Today at 3 am the @EU_Commission has sent an 80 page document with its answers to the 130 questions by the European Parliament on #SelmayrGate. Best weekend read ever! 😉😂 https://t.co/FbMjqxR79J
— Sven Giegold (@sven_giegold) March 25, 2018
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.
Please, let the @EP_BudgControl do its job without that kind of paternalistic interference… We already knew your opinion. Our duty is to come to an own assessment. Thank you for your comprehension.
— Inge Gräßle (@inge_graessle) March 25, 2018
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”.
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) March 25, 2018
‘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.
Some takeaways from 80 pages of Commission responses on Selmayr:
1. Like Juncker, Selmayr knew his predecessor as sec general was leaving on March 1
2. Commission has had "internal discussions" on changing perks for departing Commissioners
3. Selmayr took a pay cut in new job
— Mehreen (@MehreenKhn) March 25, 2018
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”.
— Sophie in 't Veld (@SophieintVeld) March 25, 2018
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.
Will @EU_Commission confirm who signed-off Commission answers about Martin Selmayr’s appointment? Was it Selmayr or another person in Sec-Gen / Juncker cabinet? If yes, this may be a conflict of interest (as opposed to arms-length person independently verifying). #Selmayrgate
— Ryan Heath (@PoliticoRyan) March 25, 2018
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”.
Members of the European Parliament claim German lawyer Martin Selmayr's speedy promotion reeks of an "old boys' club."
But 'if he goes, I go!' – threatens Jean-Claude Juncker over the Eurocrat tiff.
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) March 23, 2018
“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”.
— Peter Mueller (@PeterMueller9) March 23, 2018
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.
"It should be clear that #Selmayr must resign. 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." #selmayrgate https://t.co/XNmbCPR4P0 pic.twitter.com/jCzOzZxgTJ
— CEO (@corporateeurope) March 20, 2018
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”.
Guess what made Merkel laugh? @quatremer’s question on #SelmayrGate.
She holds Selmayr’s work “in high esteem” and calls for transparency.
Macron wants “the truth” and “consequences would have to be drawn” if needed after the EU parliament’s questions. pic.twitter.com/TD52eCQvI7
— Eric Maurice (@er1cmau) March 23, 2018
Merkel and Macron's faces when asked about number of Germans in top EU jobs, inc Martin Selmayr.
Merkel spoke of her high esteem for Selmayr – anyone who thinks he always does what Germany wants has got it wrong. pic.twitter.com/wzuIFt9po6
— Jennifer Rankin (@JenniferMerode) March 23, 2018
During the summit Selmayr didn’t make his case easier, by attending an EPP pre-summit meeting, together with Juncker.
Martin Selmayr may be his own worse enemy. Today he was photographed going into the #EPP party leaders summit…even though as Sec-Gen he's supposed to be apolitical #SelmayrGate https://t.co/BwCYHZhcen
— David Garrahy (@EuroCelt) March 22, 2018
This is another nice one @EU_Commission answer Page 76 “senior management decisions must not lead to political parties negotiations” ok what was Martin doing at #EPP Party leaders last Thursday? #SelmayrGate @GrosseteteF @langen_werner @EUombudsman @EP_BudgControl @MehreenKhn pic.twitter.com/u2mm9PgSdT
— Umberto Gambini (@UGambini) March 25, 2018
Le calendrier du Parlement européen sur le #Selmayrgate
20 mars: préparation de questions à Juncker sur la nomination de Martin Selmayr
27 mars: audition publique du commissaire Oettinger devant la commission du contrôle budgétaire
19 avril: vote d'une résolution en plénière
— Cédric Simon (@Cedsimon) March 19, 2018