Wednesday

26th Jun 2019

EU commissioner ducks questions on Selmayr affair

  • Germany's Martin Selmayr outside commission HQ (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

MEPs grilled EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger for more than 90 minutes on Tuesday (27 March) but got no new answers about the appointment of Martin Selmayr as secretary general of the European Commission.

Sticking to the answers to 134 preliminary questions sent by the EU executive on Sunday, the commissioner in charge of human resources gave an "unconditional yes" to the main one: did Selmayr's appointment follow the rules?

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"We believe it was fully in line with the regulations," he told the members of the budgetary control committee.

He argued that Selmayr, who was the head of cabinet of the commission's president Jean-Claude Juncker, "absolutely possesses the right personality and professional expertise" for the institution's top administrative job.

He insisted that Selmayr "fulfilled the legal requirements" and that "the spirit and the letter of the law" allowed him to be transferred from one position to the other without notice.

On 21 February, Selmayr was in a matter of minutes appointed deputy secretary general and then secretary general after the incumbent Alexander Italianer suddenly announced his resignation.

Oettinger stressed that the decision was taken as part of a "package" of administrative appointments, and that "no objection or position of dissent was expressed" by any commissioners - 25 of whom were unaware of the move.

But as a legal expert from the parliament explained that not publishing a position vacancy was allowed only in a "serious and urgent situation", the commissioner failed to tell the MEPs how Italianer's resignation represented such a situation.

He confirmed that Juncker knew since 2015, when he appointed Italianer as secretary general, that the civil servant wanted to retire on 1 March 2018 and that Italianer confirmed his decision to Juncker earlier this year.

But although the commission itself has admitted in its answers that Juncker had discussed the issue with Selmayr, "like all important senior management matters," Oettinger did not say when that discussion took place and when Selmayr really knew he would be able to be appointed.



While in an interview to Le Soir newspaper, Selmayr said himself that Juncker asked him to take the job in November last year, the commission insists that "the option for Mr Selmayr to become secretary general only became concrete on 20 February 2018."

Neither the commission nor Oettinger at the hearing would say why Selmayr applied and went trough the process to become deputy secretary-general and why the only candidate against him, his own deputy Clara Martinez Alberola, withdrew before the end of the procedure.

Asked why the decision to appoint Selmayr as secretary general was taken so rapidly, without letting other civil servants and even commissioners know about it, Oettinger answered: "I don't know if it would have changed anything if we had had a week to think about it."

This is not a 'coup'

The commissioner rejected the word "coup" used by an MEP to describe the move as "not appropriate".

And while the commission has been under pressure for giving misleading information about the appointment, he insisted that "lying is not a way to do politics."

He admitted however that a tweet by the commission deputy spokesman, calling on the "Brussels bubble" to "mind important things" rather than the Selmayr case, was "extremely personal and couldn't be expected to reflect the commission's opinion."

Oettinger also rejected suggestions that the appointment of Selmayr, who was Juncker's campaign director for the 2014 European elections, has anything to do with his and Juncker's party, the centre-right EPP, wanting to increase its control over the commission.

He noted Selmayr "is going to be tested" but will demonstrate that he is not "a political appointee".

He suggested however that Selmayr may have to leave his job when Juncker leaves and is replaced by a new commission chief.

"No one is secretary general for life," he noted, adding that Selmayr would have to "maintain the confidence of his bosses".

While several MEPs said that Juncker, not Oettinger, should be the one questioned by the committee, no decision was taken by the committee's chair Inge Graessle.

She indicated however that ahead of a resolution to be put to vote in April over the case, a new set of questions will be sent to the commission "before Easter".

EU Commission defiant ahead of Selmayr hearing

The European Commission is accused of "patronising" MEPs after calling on the "Brussels bubble" to stop questioning the appointment of its new secretary general.

Interview

Selmayr case symptomatic, says EU novel author

The controversy over the new EU Commission top civil servant is revealing of what is wrong with EU institutions and how they are blocked by national governments, says award-winning Austrian novelist Robert Menasse.

EU parliament united against Selmayr promotion

MEPs rallied against the stellar promotion of the new EU commission's secretary general, amid broader fears that the institution's integrity was in tatters, further weakening its credibility when tackling rule of law issues.

MEPs condemn Selmayr job 'coup' but no resignation call

In a draft resolution, the EU Parliament says that the appointment of Martin Selmayr as the commission's new secretary general "possibly overstretched the limits of the law" - but ask only for a review of the rules.

Investigation

Commission accused of cherry picking job applicants

A pilot project scheme is giving preferential treatment for interns to land highly sought-after jobs at the European Commission - bypassing the lengthy open competition for everyone else seeking the same position.

News in Brief

  1. EU warns Turkey as 'Gezi Park' trials begin
  2. EU universities to share students, curricula
  3. Migrant rescue ship loses Human Rights Court appeal
  4. Denmark completes social democrat sweep of Nordics
  5. Johnson offers 'do or die' pledge on Brexit
  6. Weber indirectly attacks Macron in newspaper op-ed
  7. EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam
  8. EU funding of air traffic control 'largely unnecessary'

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  4. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  6. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  7. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  8. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  9. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate

Latest News

  1. EU moves to end car-testing 'confidentiality clause'
  2. EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs
  3. Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions
  4. EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights
  5. EU 'special envoy' going to US plan for Palestine
  6. Polish judicial reforms broke EU law, court says
  7. EU study: no evidence of 'East vs West' food discrimination
  8. Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us