Selmayr to keep his job despite warning shot from parliament

New Secretary-General of the Commission, German Martin Selmayr during weekly college meeting of the European commission in Brussels, Belgium, 7 March 2018. [Olivier Hoslet/EPA/EFE]

A huge majority of MEPs adopted on Wednesday (18 April) a resolution describing the appointment of Martin Selmayr as Secretary-General of the European Commission “as a coup-like action which stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law”.

But they stopped short of asking Selmayr to step down and the Commission to relaunch the appointment procedure.

Selmayr, Juncker’s former chief-of-staff, was promoted to the post of secretary-general, or the Commission’s top civil servant, in February.

But the unexpected move prompted widespread criticism from media, observers and the Parliament that some rules may have been bent and that transparency norms were not respected. A lot of evidence became available afterwards.

Juncker’s Commission on thin ice as MEPs take it out on Selmayr

In a surprising turn of events, the European Parliament’s powerful Budget control committee prepared the ground for a vote in plenary tomorrow (18 April) that could deal a huge blow to the Juncker Commission.

European affairs veterans say no other appointment in EU history has ever generated so much interest and controversy.

After many stages, the Selmayr case finally reached today the packed plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, with MEPs voting a resolution and a series of amendments.

What does ‘reassess’ mean?

The weak point of the text adopted is the formulation that the Parliament asks the Commission the appointment procedure to be “reassessed”. Amendments replacing this formulation with the procedure being “reopened” were rejected, as well as amendments asking Selmayr to resign, or to voluntarily relinquish the title of secretary general until the procedure is completed.

In particular, the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) of which Jean-Claude Juncker was the successful Spitzenkandidat in the 2014 European elections with the help of Selmayr, reads the procedure to be “reassessed” in the future tense, for other appointments.

In contrast, the Green/EFA group, the legtist GUE/NGL, many of the liberals and of the socialists would like Selmayr applying again for the job, even if it turns out that he could end up being the successful candidate among others contenders.

The socialists were divided, many of them believing that the EU doesn’t need a scandal leading to the collapse of the entire EU executive at a time when the Union is faced with external challenges and enemies.

Minutes after the vote, the S&D group published a statement calling the Selmayr scandal “an embarrassing disgrace for the whole of the European institutions”. However, Inés Ayala Sender, the S&D budgetary control committee coordinator, speaks of reviewing Commission rules by September 2018 to make sure that “this won’t happen ever again”.

The Spanish socialists in particular are supportive of the Commission, because of Juncker’s position of non-interference in the conflict with secessionist Catalonia. Madrid sees Selmayr as an anchor for this position to be maintained.

Günther Oettinger, the commissioner responsible for budget and human resources, who was the MEPs’ interlocutor throughout the scandal, stated that with the appointment of Selmayr “the Commission has followed all the rules both in spirit and to the letter, as laid down in the Staff Regulations that apply to all institutions”.

“Moreover, the Resolution rightly states that the Commission decision to appoint its new Secretary-General cannot be revoked and we will not do so, as we respect the Staff Regulations”, stated Oettinger.

The Parliament resolution says that Parliament is aware “that the revocation of a favourable administrative act is generally not possible due to legal constraints, but nevertheless asks the Commission to reassess the procedure of appointment of the new Secretary-General in order to give other possible candidates within the European public administration the possibility to apply and hence allow for a wider choice among potential candidates from the same function group and grade”.

Oettinger said the Commission is open for discussions on how procedures can be improved “in the future”.

Green MEP Sven Giegold, who was at the forefront of efforts to force Selmayr to resign, stated that the Commission “only has itself to blame for this scandal. Appointing their chosen candidate without any scrutiny was bound to cause outrage. Not only have they damaged their own reputation, they have cast doubt on the integrity of the EU institutions”.

The Eurosceptic ECR group, where Tories and Polish PiS party MEPs sit, made it clear that they want Selmayr’s appointment procedure to be reopened. ECR Dutch MEP Peter Van Dalen, who had tabled a series of amendments to the resolution, stated:

“It is imperative that the Commission now start to take this issue seriously and actually address our concerns. This means reopening the procedure and give other candidates a chance”.

UKIP’s Nigel Farage congratulated the Commission for uniting Europe “in outrage over the corrupt cronyism of the Selmyar appointment”.

“The complete lack of transparency that facilitated his elevation within 9 minutes from Juncker’s ‘Hitman’ to the most powerful bureaucrat in Brussels has united Eurosceptics who are livid and Euro-centralists who are embarrassed that this issue has rippled well beyond the Brussels Bubble.”

“The European Parliament is powerless to stop this nepotism, and are now just preening in order to calm the waters of public unease.  The threat by Juncker to resign if Selmyar goes is a vacuous one and lacks all credibility,” Farage said.

Selmayr-gate: Storm in an EU teacup

Despite all the fury that rose after Martin Selmayr was appointed secretary-general of the Commission in February, one thing is now clear: the German official will keep his job.

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