Juncker under fire for ally promotion
The European Commission has been criticised for allowing President Jean-Claude Juncker to break its rules in promoting a friend and political ally as secretary general.
The EU’s ombudsman said the executive branch had committed four counts of maladministration in appointing Martin Selmayr, nicknamed the “beast of the Berlaymont” on account of the name of the commission’s headquarters, as its top civil servant in February.
The ombudsman said there was an “artificial sense of urgency” created by the commission in order to justify its failure to advertise the role.
The watchdog targeted Juncker, who was found to have muddied distinctions between administrative independence and his personal allegiance to Selmayr.
The commission mentioned the ongoing Brexit crisis as one of the reasons it had to “act without delay” to make Selmayr its general secretary in February.
The ongoing Brexit and immigration crises provide an unwelcome backdrop to the damning report when the European Union is under intense scrutiny.
The report said the commission was “defensive, evasive and, at times, combative” in its communications over the appointment, which provoked widespread criticism from MEPs.
But the EU’s 27 other commissioners were also criticised. “It is extraordinary that no commissioner seemed to question the secretary-general appointment procedure, which in the end raised valid widespread concerns,” said ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.
O’Reilly inspected 11,000 pages of internal commission documents as part of a probe sparked after complaints by MEPs, who called the appointment “coup-like” and potentially illegal.
Selmayr has climbed the ranks rapidly since he joined the commission at a junior level 14 years ago. In one day in February, he was promoted to the position of deputy secretary general, then awarded the most important job, with almost no scrutiny.
In her report, O’Reilly said the commission flouted both the letter and spirit of the rules to appoint Selmayr and had been “evasive” over the course of her enquiries.
Before the double promotion, the German lawyer was the head of Juncker’s private office, having run his 2014 presidential bid. O’Reilly reported that “an inappropriate blurring of the line between administrative independence and political closeness” were evident in the secretary-general appointment, suggesting Juncker’s gratitude to his campaign manager influenced the president’s judgement.
“All this risks jeopardising the hard-won record of high EU administrative standards and consequently public trust,” O’Reilly said.
Gunther Oettinger, EU budget and human resources commissioner, said the report “neither contests the legality of the appointment procedure…nor the choice of the candidate”.
Federica Mogherini, EU foreign affairs chief, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Selmayr. Picture credit: Wikimedia