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European Commission refuses to rethink ‘coup-like’ appointment of top official

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Martin Selmayr sits behind Jean-Claude Juncker in the European Parliament (Getty)

The European Commission has said it has no intention of revisiting the controversial appointment of its top civil servant – despite being asked to do so by MEPs.

The European Parliament today called for the double promotion given to Martin Selmayr, a former aide of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, to be “reassessed.”

The motion passed by MEPs described the process of his appointment as a “coup-like action which stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law.”

But the Commission immediately ruled out Mr Selmayr’s removal, effectively ending a two-month long inquest into allegations of cronyism that saw Mr Juncker threaten to quit if his ally was forced out.

UKIP MEP Nigel Farage said it showed the Parliament was “powerless to stop this nepotism.”

Green MEP Bart Staes, who wanted Parliament to demand the process be reopened, said: “It is regrettable that MEPs did not take this chance to take concrete action.”

And Jean Quatremer, the French journalist who first reported the scandal, said it showed “European democracy is a farce.”

The scandal began when Mr Selmayr was made secretary general of the Commission – a job he hadn’t applied for – in February after being given two promotions in nine minutes.

The politically-savvy German official had applied to be the deputy secretary general in order to maintain his influence when Mr Juncker finishes his term next year.

His appointment was approved at a meeting of Commissioners on February 21.

Minutes later, Mr Juncker told the meeting that the then secretary general was retiring and proposed Mr Selmayr as a replacement. Commissioners – including the UK’s Julian King – agreed.

Dutch MEP Peter Van Dalen said today: “We all know that Selmayr’s appointment was decided before the process even started.”

The Commission subsequently said that Brexit was among immediate challenges which prevented it from running an open competition for the top job.

Martin Selmayr (right) with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (Getty)

Some political groups pushed for the Parliament to demand that the Commission “reopen” the hiring process.

Mr Staes said: “We work hard to convince voters that the EU represents their interests and to tackle the pernicious myths of a self-serving old boys club.

“The Commission’s recent actions have made this task that bit harder, but they can still do the right thing and re-open the appointment of the Secretary General.”

The Parliament could have delayed the discharge of the Commission’s budget for 2016 until the Commission had re-opened the process.

But that proposal didn’t win support from the larger blocs of MEPs, including the centre-right EPP group which includes parties to which Mr Selmayr and Mr Juncker belong.

Instead, a compromise motion called for the Commission to: “Reassess the procedure of appointment of the new Secretary-General in order to give other possible candidates within the European public administration the possibility to apply.”

Centre-left MEP Ines Ayala Sender defended the motion, saying: “We worked very hard to get a compromise resolution, supported by a large majority among all other groups, and we welcome the achievement we were able to reach.”

She added: “We demand the Commission to reassess the appointment of the Secretary-General under the new rules which should ensure the nomination of the best candidate by giving all possible candidates the possibility to apply and compete.”

However, soon after the vote, the Commission issued a statement insisting they had the “followed all the rules both in spirit and to the letter” and would not act on Parliament’s request.

“The Commission decision to appoint its new Secretary-General cannot be revoked and we will not do so,” said budget commissioner Gunther Oettinger.

In response to calls from MEPs for the Commission to review its procedure for appointing senior officials, Mr Oettinger said he would convene a “round table” to discuss how rules can be better applied.

In a parting shot to the Parliament, he concluded: “Senior management appointments should under no circumstances become the subject of negotiations between Member States and political parties. All EU Institutions have a shared responsibility to ensure this.”

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