Selmayrgate: Commission on the defensive as MEPs demand answers

Written by Martin Banks and Julie Levy-Abegnoli on 13 March 2018 in News

On Monday night at the start of the Strasbourg plenary, MEPs quizzed European budget and human resources Commissioner Günther Oettinger on the Commission’s appointment policy. 

Martin Selmayr | Photo credit: European Commission audiovisual

Selmayr’s appointment as Secretary-General on 1 March has drawn fierce criticism from some MEPs, who say they want answers to questions about the “transparency, integrity and accountability of the whole appointment process.”

An investigation is to be launched by Parliament’s budgetary control committees into the process that led to Selmayr’s elevation to Secretary-General. 

A vote will be held at a later date on whether Parliament will call for Juncker to reverse the appointment.


There have been claims, denied by the Commission, that institutional norms were ignored and obstacles to the appointment removed.

The German-born Selmayr had been appointed deputy Secretary-General at a meeting in February, just minutes before Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker informed the 28 Commissioners that the Dutch-born Secretary-General, Alexander Italianer, was quitting. Juncker then told the Commissioners that he would like Selmayr, a member of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, to take Italianer’s place.

The college of Commissioners, which had no previous discussion of the issue, was asked to make an immediate decision.

In Monday’s debate, Oettinger told MEPs, “Let’s treat each other with respect. Fraud, corruption, scandal, intrigue, personal gain - all this has been suggested by some of the speakers. That is why I have the greatest interest in an objective investigation by and within the committee on budgetary control.”

Defending Selmayr’s appointment, Oettinger said, “I am absolutely certain - and no one has ever suggested otherwise – that Martin Selmayr possesses all the qualities required for the function of Secretary-General of the European Commission. 

“He has years of experience in key posts at the Commission. As an excellent lawyer and a skilled communicator, he is completely suitable for the job. He combines hard work, talent, qualifications and commitment to the European idea with political nous. He also has the trust of our Commission’s President, my trust and that of the entire college of Commissioners.”

The German official also insisted the appointment was by the book, saying, “In response to the procedural issues that have been raised, including publicly in recent days, it can be replied that the procedure and its time-limits have been respected fully.

“When selecting a Secretary-General, neither nationality nor membership of a political party - if any - plays any part; the one and only consideration is fitness for this office, in order to assure the functioning of our institution and to guarantee that it follows the course charted by the President of the Commission. We consider Martin Selmayr, wholly suitable for the post.

“In short, we can demonstrate that due account was taken of the rules, that the procedure complied with these rules and that the candidate also possesses all the qualifications sought. We would therefore ask you to scrutinise this decision but then also to accept it.”

The debate came in response to a series of problems regarding ethics and conflicts of interest in the European Commission.

In the debate, EPP group Vice-Chair Françoise Grossetête said, “Appointments must not mean adopting powers in the high administration thanks to arrangements between friends. That gives grist to the mill of eurosceptics and maintains the myth of a technocratic Europe.

She added, “The EU does not belong to civil servants, but to European citizens. The first are there to serve the second and not to help themselves or follow their interests. It would be very good if we could remind ourselves of that.”

Arndt Kohn, speaking on behalf of the S&D group, said, “We are living at time when there is Brexit and population in the air. The European project is being called into question. Promoting Selmayr gives the impression to the outside world that people are simply being moved around and promotes a lack of understanding in the general population.”

He asked Oettinger, “How are you going to recreate this confidence? There should be a transparent procedure to find the best candidate.”

Dutch ALDE group member Sophie in ‘t Veld said her party could not support the Juncker Commission if Selmayr stayed in post. Selmayr’s promotion “destroys all the credibility of the European Union”, she said.

She added, “The Commission will have to choose what is more important, the career of Selmayr or the credibility of the EU.”

Greens/EFA group co-Chair Philippe Lamberts urged the Commission to “come out of their bunkers in which they close themselves day to day.”

He said, “We must ensure the European Commission represents excellence. No one is questioning Selmayr’s talent or abilities, but we have to remember he is a party man above all. He is moving forward with authoritarian centralisation; he wants civil servants to obey rather than be creative. His objective is to  have one line and one face - his.”  

Dennis de Jong, a Vice-Chair of Parliament’s GUE/NGL group, said, “Everything stinks when it comes to this appointment, it has all been done behind closed doors. How can it be that the Commission was surprised that Selmayr was appointed as Secretary-General?”

The European Ombudsman said that it was looking into two complaints about the manner of Selmayr’s appointment.


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

Julie Levy-Abegnoli is newdesk editor of the Parliament Magazine


Interested in this content?

Sign up to our free daily email bulletins.


Share this page



Related Partner Content

PM+: Delaying China market economy status vital for EU's competitiveness
5 November 2015

If Europe wants to avoid becoming China's dumping ground, then it must postpone granting China market economy status, argue Milan Nitzschke and Laurent Ruessmann.

PAPIRUS means innovative public procurement
20 September 2016

The PAPIRUS project tested Public Procurement of Innovation in the field of energy efficiency of buildings and developed educational tools on proper implementation of PPI, explains Paweł...