The European Commission has made a robust defence of its appointment of Martin Selmayr as head of the executive’s civil service.
MEPs questioned the legitimacy of the German lawyer’s appointment as the EU institution’s secretary general putting him in charge of a 30,000-strong workforce.
Responding to 134 questions put forward by MEPs, the commission says that Selmayr’s appointment was fully compliant with all of its staff appointing procedures.
In an 80-page response, the commission sought to counter mounting criticism around the transparency of Selmayr’s unexpected elevation as secretary general during a meeting of the college of commissioners on 21 February.
The growing row centres around the so-called ‘flash’ promotion of Selmayr which involved a series of tightly orchestrated resignations and appointments, which all of which, according to the commission, was roundly supported by all 28 Eu commissioners and rubber-stamped in under 30 minutes.
Critics claim that the decision was a carefully engineered and un-transparent move to circumvent normal procedures
Repeatedly stating that “Selmayr was not promoted but transferred”, the commission response argues that the then former chef de cabinet of the commission president, “was eligible for the post of Secretary-General” and that the decision to first appoint him as deputy secretary general, then instantly promote him to secretary general following the surprise resignation of the incumbent, was taken “unanimously by the Commission.”
Despite the fact that officially there was no official vacancy for the post, the commission says Selmayr underwent “a full day Assessment Centre in the context of his application for the post of Secretary General.”
The post of secretary general, it argues, “was not vacant and therefore was not published. The Commission unanimously considered that Selmayr brings all the necessary qualifications to this important position.”
“The questions of the European Parliament on the cloak-and-dagger promotion of Selmayr are more than justified. Europe's reputation with the citizens suffers from such questionable promotion procedures. Juncker's stroppy reaction ignores the loss of confidence that Europe could suffer” Sven Gielgold MEP
The 134 questions asked by MEPs came as part of an investigation by the European Parliament's Budgetary Control committee over alleged irregularities in the appointment.
The Commission’s response was sent at 3 am on Sunday. On Monday, German Greens MEP Sven Gielgold said, “We will now carefully analyse the 80-page document.” Gielgold called the appointment “questionable”.
His comments come on the eve of a hearing on the issue with Commissioner Gunther Oettinger on Tuesday in parliament.
The Budget and Human Resources Commissioner will be quizzed on Selmayr’s appointment at a public hearing which has been organised by the Budgetary Control Committee. This will feed into a resolution to be voted on by the whole Parliament on April 19.
Meanwhile, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker threatened to resign at a meeting of European centre-right leaders on Friday.
"If he leaves, I leave, too," Juncker reportedly said. The statement came directly before the publication of the commission's answers to the MEP questions.
On this, Giegold, European Parliament rapporteur for transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions, said, "Juncker's threat to resign disrespects the democratic investigation of the Parliament. Instead of adding more fuel to the flames with his threats, Juncker should contribute to the inquiry.
“It is grotesque that the Commission president makes his fate conditional on the career of an EU official. Juncker is at the service of European citizens, not of Martin Selmayr.”
He added, “Juncker's disparaging behaviour towards the European Parliament is nothing new: during the LuxLeaks tax scandal investigation he refused to be heard.”
"This whole situation reminds me of the 1999 mass resignation of the Jacques Santer Commission because of integrity scandals. Unless the Commission immediately changes its arrogant attitude and gives the European Parliament all the necessary information, it may well suffer a similar fate” Dennis De Jong MEP
“The questions of the European Parliament on the cloak-and-dagger promotion of Selmayr are more than justified. Europe's reputation with the citizens suffers from such questionable promotion procedures. Juncker's stroppy reaction ignores the loss of confidence that Europe could suffer.”
“I call on Juncker to play a constructive role in the investigation of Selmayr's ad hoc promotion. Europe's credibility is at stake."
Further comment, in a tweet, came from German EPP MEP Inge Graessle who said the budgetary control “should be allowed to do its job without that kind of paternalistic interference”.
Further comment came from Dutch MEP Dennis De Jong, co leader of the European Parliament intergroup on Integrity, Transparency, Corruption and Organised crime (ITCO), who says Selmayr was “bumped up after the surprise retirement of the previous post holder.”
De Jong criticised the appointment, saying, "Juncker’s Commission increasingly looks like an arrogant 'old boys network'.
It shows a “lack of integrity and contempt for European citizens”, he said.
He said, “I request a full European Parliament investigation on the appointment of Martin Selmayr. His promotion must be suspended until we have full clarity following an investigation.
"This whole situation reminds me of the 1999 mass resignation of the Jacques Santer Commission because of integrity scandals. Unless the Commission immediately changes its arrogant attitude and gives the European Parliament all the necessary information, it may well suffer a similar fate.”