The European Parliament yesterday (13 December) adopted a resolution, with a majority of 71%, that calls for the resignation of Martin Selmayr, the former right-hand man of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker whose rushed promotion earlier this year was criticised as “a coup-like action”.
Juncker’s former chief of staff was promoted to the post of secretary-general of the European Commission last February, seizing a position considered to be one of the most influential in Brussels.
But the swift and unexpected move prompted widespread criticism from observers and Parliament that internal rules had been bent and that transparency standards were not abided by.
Last May, the European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly opened a probe into Selmayr’s promotion. In a report published last September, O’Reilly concluded that the EU executive had failed to follow internal procedures in promoting Juncker’s chief aide, and by doing so undermined public trust in the EU civil service.
In Strasbourg yesterday (13 December), MEPs approved a resolution approving O’Reilly’s work, saying that “the Commission failed to respect the principles of transparency, ethics and the rule of law in the procedure it used to appoint Martin Selmayr as its new Secretary General”.
Lawmakers said they “strongly regret” the Commission’s decision to confirm Selmayr as its new Secretary-General, “disregarding the extensive and widespread criticism from EU citizens and the reputational damage caused to the EU as a whole”.
“Selmayr must resign as Secretary-General,” the Parliament resolution concludes, calling on the Commission “to adopt a new procedure for appointing its Secretary-General, ensuring that the highest standards of transparency, ethics and the rule of law are upheld”.
— Aidan O'Sullivan (@aidanosullivan) December 13, 2018
“The Commission created an artificial sense of urgency to fill the post of Secretary-General in order to justify not publishing a vacancy notice,” the resolution says, referring to the Ombudsman’s inquiry. The selection procedure was organised “not to fill that role directly, but to make Mr Selmayr Secretary-General in a rapid two-step appointment,” MEPs said.
The resolution also recalls that the Ombudsman found four instances of maladministration in Selmayr’s appointment “due to the Commission’s failure to follow the relevant rules correctly, both in letter and spirit”.
368 MEPs (71%) voted in favour of Selmayr’s resignation, while 135 abstained (26.1%) and 15 (3%) voted against. Of the 15 votes against, 13 are from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) to which Juncker and Selmayr are affiliated. Two are from the anti-EU group Europe of Nations and Freedoms (ENF).
Among those who abstained, the vast majority are also from the EPP. The centre-right group in the European Parliament advised its MEPs to abstain but 22 rebelled and voted in favour of Selmayr’s resignation.
Selmayr is attending the two-day EU summit ending today.
Brilliant photo from Brussels by AP Photo/Alastair Grant: Theresa May chats with the Dutch and Belgian prime ministers while Macron and Merkel embrace and whisper off to the side. Martin Selmayr looks on pic.twitter.com/bdYWgfDyr3
— Jon Stone (@joncstone) December 13, 2018
Juncker held a brief press conference on Thursday evening, after the first day of the EU summit currently taking place in Brussels. Journalists were allowed only two questions, a move that was widely interpreted in the press room as an attempt to avoid questions about the Parliament resolution on Selmayr’s appointment.
Before O’Reilly’s intervention in the Selmayr affair, MEPs had criticised the “coup-like” promotion of the Commission’s secretary-general, but had stopped short of asking the decision to be reversed.
When the Ombudsman’s report was published, the Commission said it didn’t share her analysis. The defence line of the EU executive at the time was that it had mustered “unprecedented transparency” in answering concerns over Selmayr’s appointment.
In reply to questions from journalists, the Commission kept quoting an April statement by Günther Oettinger, the EU Commissioner responsible for budget and human resources, who was the MEPs’ interlocutor throughout the affair.