Appointment of secretary general draws ire of MEPs

Selection of Martin Selmayr for European Commission job deemed ‘coup-like action’

Martin Selmayr: has been appointed commission’s new secretary general in manner criticised as “secretive”. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty

Martin Selmayr: has been appointed commission’s new secretary general in manner criticised as “secretive”. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty


MEPs have sharply rebuked the European Commission over the secretive way in which it appointed its new secretary general.

The nomination by commission president Jean Claude Juncker of his chef de cabinet Martin Selmayr to the job of head of the commission’s staff was a “coup-like action”, MEPs agreed.

But in the resolution agreed in Strasbourg on Wednesday, following a promise from the commission to open a dialogue on future appointments, they stopped short of calling on Mr Selmayr to step down, confining themselves to demanding the commission “reassess” how the appointment was made to ensure greater transparency in future and allowing others to apply.

Insisting that the rules had been adhered to in the Selmayr case, Guenther Oettinger, the commissioner responsible for budgets and personnel, told MEPs the commission was “open to constructive discussion”.

“We stand ready to reassess, together with parliament and the other institutions, how the application of the current rules and procedures can be improved in the future,” he said.

He proposed to “organise an inter-institutional round table as soon as possible” on the issue but warned he would defend the commission’s prerogative to appoint its own staff.

Critical resolution

“Senior management appointments should under no circumstances become the subject of negotiations between member states and political parties. All EU institutions have a shared responsibility to ensure this,” he said.

The European Parliament’s powerful budgetary control committee voted by 22 to three (with four abstentions) for the critical resolution, which was later endorsed by the full parliament. It called on 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 for the process to be revised so that future appointments were open and transparent.

In response to the Selmayr scandal, one of a series of problems regarding ethics and conflicts of interest in the European Commission, the Greens/EFA group also called for a postponement of the discharge of the European Commission’s budget. This was rejected.

Scandal blame

“The commission only has itself to blame for this scandal,” Greens/EFA MEP Bart Staes said. “Anointing 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.”

Mr Selmayr, who is both widely admired and feared in the Brussels machine for his micro-management and allegedly ruthless methods, had applied for a vacancy as deputy director general for which he faced only one rival, his deputy.

She withdrew and Mr Selmayr was appointed to that post by the commission in February, and then immediately, to the surprise of most commissioners, promoted to the unexpected vacancy in the top job of secretary general.

Mr Juncker has vehemently defended the procedure and even warned party allies that he would quit if Mr Selmayr was forced out. The parliament’s vote and commission promise of discussions is likely to end the fractious stand-off between MEPs and the commission. For now.