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

Martin Selmayr, Secretary-General of the European Commission and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 13 March 2018. [Patrick Seeger/EPA/EFE]

In a surprising turn of events, the European Parliament’s powerful budget control committee hardened the tone ahead of 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.

The Parliament’s budget control committee yesterday evening (16 April) adopted its report on the appointment of Martin Selmayr as Secretary-General of the European Commission by a large majority, calling on the EU executive to reopen the appointment procedure.

MEPs on the committee say the nomination of Selmayr “could be seen as a coup like action”, which stretched and possibly exceeded the limits of the law. Lawmakers are calling for the procedure to be reassessed and for other candidates to be given the possibility to apply. The resolution was endorsed by 22 votes to 3 against with 4 abstentions.

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.

Although the Commission has tried to dismiss the case as a non-issue, it has also worked overtime to produce two batches of written answers to MEPs, the first one running to 80 pages published on a Sunday morning at 3am on 25 March, when the clocks were moved forward for daylight savings time

On 4 April, the Commission published an additional 84 pages of answers, intended to influence a Parliament draft resolution published on 28 March, which was critical but stopped short of asking for the appointment decision to be reversed.

On 5 April, the budget control committee published 66 pages of amendments which left the impression that the Parliament was losing its appetite for sinking Selmayr, possibly to avoid a bigger crisis. In the meantime, Juncker claimed that he would resign if Selmayr were to be toppled.

Surprisingly, to a large majority, the votes of the 129 amendments went in a tougher direction and the reopening the appointment procedure.

MEP Sven Giegold, the Parliament’s rapporteur on ‘transparency, integrity and accountability of EU institutions’ commented:

“This is a big blow for the Commission. A large majority calls on the European Commission to reopen the appointment procedure for the Secretary General. At the same time the Parliament acknowledges that this might prove legally difficult.

“The Parliament calls to organise all appointments in an open and transparent manner. All the blackmail by Juncker has not stopped the Parliament to adopt a highly critical report and call for tough consequences. Parliamentary control has prevailed over political power play.”

The Greens/EFA group, which has been at the forefront of the battle against the suspicious appointment, cried victory.

MEP Gerben Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE, Netherlands) tweeted that he now expected Juncker to acknowledge the procedure that led to the appointment of Selmayr was flawed.

It is not clear if Juncker will appear during the debate. In the budget committee the Commission is represented by the Commissioner responsible for budget and personnel, Günther Oettinger.

Jean Quatremer, the journalist who debunked most of the intricacies of the Selmayr appointment, tweeted that after the committee vote, resignations were expected.

Selmayr could do his boss a big favour if he resigned before the vote in plenary, but Juncker made things more difficult with his ultimatum.

The vote in plenary is uncertain, because many MEPs from the mainstream parties are of the opinion that faced with so many external crises, the last thing the EU needs is an internal one.

Franklin Delhousse, Professor at ULG, wrote that this Juncker crisis is much more dangerous that the crisis that put down the Commission led by Jacques Santer in 1999.

Santer resigned, and with him the entire Commission, over a corruption scandal involving one of the Commissioners, Edith Cresson, who was channelling EU funds to her dentist. Quatremer was also instrumental in debunking Cresson’s dealings.

“Here, the system is wounded at its heart. This time, the crisis is systemic. Many useful Commission’s initiatives will suffer from this stain. It’s also pathetic to see the Commission’s strong communication smeared by repeated lies in this episode”, writes Delhousse.

“This episode will come back recurrently during the populist campaign against the EU institutions in 2019. And later it will still be used to weaken the Commission. 2019 will sadly be far from the end of this story. With friends like these, Europe doesn’t need enemies”, his commentary ends.

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