Angry MEPs take Brussels to task over ‘skulduggery’ in Martin Selmayr appointment

MEPs are livid at the appointment of Martin Selmayr to EU secretary-general in apparent violations of EU norms

Jean Claude Juncker (right) and Martin Selmayr, now appointed EU secretary-general
Jean Claude Juncker (right) and Martin Selmayr, now appointed EU secretary-general

The European Union’s executive was given a dressing-down by MEPs in a debate on Monday afternoon over the unorthodox appointment of the all-powerful Martin Selmayr to EU secretary-general.

MEPs railed against the European Commission as it accused it of skulduggery in elevating EC President’s Jean-Claude Juncker chief of staff to the head of the EU’s civil service.

Socialists and greens, liberals and the centre-right as well as eurosceptics took the commissioner responsible for EU personnel, Gunther Oettinger to task over the appointment, as well as Juncker, who was absent for the debate.

The unusual parliamentary session a leak of claims, denied by the EC, that institutional norms were ignored. The German-born Martin Selmayr was previously appointed deputy secretary general at a meeting in February, just minutes before Juncker informed the 28 commissioners that the current secretary general, Alexander Italianer, from the Netherlands, was quitting. Selmayr was immediately promoted to the job. But it turns out that Juncker was aware over two years in advance of the departure of the outgoing secretary-general, suggesting there was an attempt at perverting the normal course of the appointment.

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Oettinger, who briefed MEPs at the start of the session, insisted that the appointment was made by the book.

“The post of deputy secretary-general was advertised internally, and candidates were interviewed by myself. National and party allegiance has nothing to do with this appointment…. We feel Selmayr is 100% suitable for the post he has been appointed to.”

Various MEPs criticised the Commission for having given eurosceptics grist for the mill. “It is perpetuating the myth that things get done behind closed doors,” said French EPP member Françoise Grossetête.

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld delivered a livid denunciation of the European Commission’s machinations.

“That you are expecting us to believe [this was done by the book] is stupid,” the MEP said, accusing the Commission of having lack of judgement and criticising EC president Jean-Claude Juncker for not being present for the debate.

“I am left completely speechless at the scene of 28 powerful politicians being led by the nose for the political leadership of this continent, led by the nose by a civil servant. Oettinger has been signing on the dotted line. If the commissioners are really scared of a civil servant, how can we expect them to stand up for the European interest against Trump on the trade war, or against powerful lobbies.

“Selmayrgate destroys the credibility of the European Commission… The EC has to choose what is important: Selmayr’s career or the credibility of the EU. The appointment was a grave error that must be corrected.”

French socialist MEP Pervenche Beres took the Commission to task for not specifically advertising the post of secretary-general. “You, Mr vice-president, who claim to respect all the rules, how can you countenance this manifest violation of the spirit of the letter of the law?”

Dennis De Jong, the Dutch socialist, said the Commission had treated MEPs “like children”.

The Eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farage dubbed Selmayr “a fanatic” who had been placed in “a €20,000-a-month job”. “Thank God the UK is leaving,” the British member said.

Various other MEPs joined the fray of criticism, with Oettinger finally trying to deny accusations of “personal interest” in the matter. 

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