Günther Oettinger hits back at criticism over Martin Selmayr appointment

However, European budget and human resources Commissioner tells MEPs “things could have been done better.”

Günther Oettinger | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

28 Mar 2018

Günther Oettinger has angrily hit back at criticism over the appointment of Martin Selmayr as the Commission’s new Secretary General.

The European budget and human resources Commissioner told MEPs, “There have been no infringements and we stuck to the procedures.”

However, he also admitted that it was possible “things could have been done better.”


He also conceded that he could “understand” the questions raised about “the timing and skills” surrounding the appointment.

On claims by some MEPs that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had acted like a “dictator,” he said, “This is not the case and he had justified why he thought Selmayr was best for this job.”

Critics have argued that Selmayr was “catapulted” into the post, but Oettinger deflected claims that it was a political appointment, saying both he and Juncker had sought to conduct the appointment in a “non-partisan” manner.

“It was a professional appointment and done on a professional basis. The Commission has not acted wrong here.”

“Selmayr will be in the limelight now and will be tested but I do not think these concerns will be justified.”

Oettinger also said it would be possible to change the secretary general in the future if and when the Commission changes “with a highly experienced official.”

“No one is secretary general for life. It is possible to change and, as with other high-ranking officials, Selmayr has to maintain the confidence of his bosses. That also applies when a new Commission is in post from 2019.”

The appointment of Selmayr, a German lawyer, to the most senior position in the Commission, in charge of a 30,000 strong workforce, has caused an outcry over “cronyism” claims.

On Tuesday, Oettinger faced a series of tough questions from members of Parliament's budgetary control committee on the appointment of Selmayr.

In his address to the meeting, Oettinger said, “I will not repeat the Commission’s replies to the 134 questions sent by MEPs on this but there has been an attempt to thoroughly answer all the questions.”

Some MEPs questioned why the Commission’s 80-page response was sent out at 3am on Sunday, and Oettinger said this had happened “by chance when the clocks changed”, adding that the Commission “should not be reproached on this.”

He said there were two sets of questions to answer.

“First, does the new secretary general have the requisite personal and professional qualifications for this post? Of course, everyone is entitled to their own views on this but I have known him for eight years and I believe that he possesses the right expertise for this post. I am convinced he is fit for the job. If you ask whether he also fulfils the legal requirements as laid down by the EU staff regulations, then I believe that, yes, he does.”

Oettinger added, “The second question relates to the procedures followed in this case and whether they are legally watertight. I am a lawyer and the questions from the MEPs have focused on the legal aspects involved.

“We have examined all this again and again and believe the procedures followed were watertight and that the appointment was fully in line with the staff regulations.”

He said he had agreed to speak to the committee in order to “dispel any doubts there might be about this appointment”.

The official said this was “ absolutely necessary” and was “in the interest of everyone including Selmayr himself.”

He added, “That is why I agreed to come here today to also allow MEPs, in a separate room, to see any documents connected to the selection procedure involved here.”

Oettinger said, “The rules are very clear and appropriate - we have the right to choose the best candidate for the job and institutions have to respect each other on this.

“The candidate, Selmayr, showed himself to meet all the requirements and this appointment also meets the spirit of the law. There have been no infringements and we stuck to the procedures as laid down by the Parliament.

“I am convinced that at each stage of the procedure we complied with all the rules we had to comply with. The rules were followed and were not infringed in any way.”

He said Selmayr has “been there” with Juncker from “day one” and it had been agreed that the previous secretary general would hold the post for a short time only.

"He was asked to stay on but it became clear he would step down. Juncker had to consider who was the appropriate person for the job and that person was Mr Selmayr.”

He added, “I can understand the questions that have been raised about the timing and skills and we will need to consider what could have been done better. In retrospect one is wiser. Maybe some aspects of the screenplay could have been re-written.”

He added, “However, we have answered all the questions from the MEPs. I have had some extremely personal tweets about this and do not want to continue with this.

“Whatever your opinion of Selmayr, some discriminatory attacks have been made against him, which does not help the image of either this Parliament or the Commission.”

German EPP group MEP Inge Graessle, who chairs the committee, told Oettinger, “Only three people were aware of this important vacancy. It would have been nice to publish the vacancy which, of course, never happened.

“This has all given rise to great deal of public debate and there is a problem of credibility. This committee has criticised this appointment and we also need to talk about the person. Selmayr is a very ambitious man who’s risen far faster thought the ranks than others.

“He has no managerial experience which one would have expected. We are not saying there are doubts about his quality but the shortfalls in terms of transparency. We need to know how this procedure will take place in the future.”

Greens MEP Bart Staes questioned the “whole procedure” adding, “Only Selmayr and Juncker knew about this appointment so would it not have been better for you (Oettinger) to have been informed?”.

Irish EPP group MEP Brian Hayes told Oettinger, “You must feel you have been kept in the dark when you had responsibility for personnel. You must feel very cheated.”


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