Monday

18th Jun 2018

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.

... our 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".

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.

Interview

Academic to probe EU's secret law-making

A German PhD candidate has recently started conducting interviews about how the EU's behind-closed-doors 'trilogues' actually work. "Now the fun work starts," he says.

News in Brief

  1. Schroeder and Sarkozy appear with Putin at World Cup
  2. Tennis champ and 'EU diplomat' claims immunity
  3. Italy threatens to ditch EU-Canada free trade deal
  4. EU institutions agree EU-wide rights for asylum seekers
  5. EU free wifi portal hit by 'technical issue'
  6. EU ambassadors approve plan to fight antimicrobial resistance
  7. Leak: World will fail on Paris climate goal by 2040
  8. Greek PM to face confidence vote over Macedonia deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  7. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  8. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  11. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model

Latest News

  1. Progressive regulation needed now for 21st century finance
  2. Greece and Merkel's fate top This WEEK
  3. How Italy's government might hijack EU migration policy
  4. The EU cannot shape the future of AI with regulation
  5. Long-distance animal transport: unthinkable still happening
  6. EU to phase out most harmful biofuels
  7. Bavaria rebels could unseat Merkel over migration
  8. European People's Party faces moment of truth over Hungary

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  3. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  4. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  6. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  7. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  9. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  11. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us