2nd Mar 2024

‘Rushed’ EP secretary-general pick sparks legal complaint

  • Alessandro Chiocchetti shaking hands with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 (Photo: European Parliament)
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An anti-corruption NGO and a group of lawyers announced on Tuesday (13 September) they will launch a formal complaint with the EU Ombudsman over this week's appointment of a new head of the European Parliament's administration.

The parliament's administrative leadership body, called the Bureau, on Monday evening in a closed door meeting appointed the parliament's new secretary general and several director-generals.

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The president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, and the 14 vice-presidents and five quaestors, all MEPs, appointed Alessandro Chiocchetti, Metsola's head of cabinet to one of the most powerful positions in the EU bubble.

Chiocchetti will oversee over 9,000 staff and a budget of €2bn, plus huge real estate portfolio. He will be able to influence both the parliament's agenda, and its personnel.

Transparency International EU and The Good Lobby, a non-profit civic start-up, said on Tuesday they will file a complaint with the EU ombudsman for alleged maladministration.

The appointment has been criticised for being rushed — Chiocchetti only takes up his new position in January — and for overlooking other candidates, all of them director-generals, whose experience in administration management has been seen as more substantial.

Metsola's Italian pick was backed as part of a deal among some political groups, including Metsola's centre-right European People's Party, the liberal Renew Europe and The Left.

The Socialists and Democrats, the second-largest group in the parliament, were divided in the Bureau, with two of their vice-presidents backing Chiocchetti.

The centrist Renew and The Left both got high-level positions within the administration.

"The sordid saga to install Chiocchetti as the new secretary-general of the European Parliament is bound to damage the parliament's reputation in the eyes of European citizens and representatives of other EU institutions," Green MEP Heidi Hautala, one of the vice-presidents, said Monday night in a statement.

She added that Chiocchetti was selected from a pool of four candidates after a 10-minute presentation of each candidate — with only Metsola asking questions.

Spanish MEP Iratxe Garcia, leader of the Socialists and Democrats said, she was "worried about the damage that this decision can cause to the image of the institution, the internal democracy and the credibility of this house towards the citizens."

However, French MEP Stéphane Séjourné, leader of the Renew group in the parliament defended the deal on Tuesday.

He said that previously the secretary general emerged from a deal between the two biggest parties, the EPP and the S&D, and that he was happy that now there is more pluralism in decision-making.

"I am sorry, but in the European parliament statute it says Bureau decides on secretary general, and the Bureau decided with a vote, with open candidates on who the secretary general will be," he told reporters in Strasbourg.

"We have ended the co-management between two groups, and we are very happy with that, we don't think it was healthy to manage this institutions with just two political groups involved," Séjourné said.

'Institutional corruption'

Transparency International has criticised the deal earlier, calling it a "case of institutional corruption", called for the process the halted and restarted in a transparent and accountable manner.

Michiel van Hulten, Transparency International EU's director, said the way this package was adopted without scrutiny is "unacceptable".

"EU citizens expect the EU institutions to be transparent and accountable, instead of stitching up sordid backroom deals to further the personal and political agendas of senior officials, MEPs and party groups," he said.

"It is deeply regrettable that your institution, which had been so outspoken in its criticism of another institution's outrageous abuse of procedure, now seeks to do the same thing with the backdoor appointment of your next secretary-general," the anti-corruption NGO told in a letter to Metsola last week.

The European Parliament previously criticised the EU Commission for its fast-track appointment of former commission president's head of cabinet, Martin Selmayr to the secretary general position.

Once the complaint is received, the ombudsman's office will analyse the substance and if the issue can be investigated by ombudsman, which could take days or weeks, depending on the complexity.

Metsola becomes youngest EU Parliament president

Metsola's win was actually secured on Monday - after a deal was struck by the largest three political parties, the centre-right European People's Party, the Socialist and Democrats and the liberal Renew Europe.

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During a plenary session in Strasbourg, an MEP was denied access to the chamber because he was carrying his young child, due to unforeseen circumstances. The episode shows parliament's rules need to be updated, several MEPs told EUobserver.

EU Commission clears Poland's access to up to €137bn EU funds

The European Commission has legally paved the way for Poland to access up to €137bn EU funds, following Donald Tusk's government's efforts to strengthen the independence of their judiciary and restore the rule of law in the country.

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