Selmayrgate: a bureaucratic EU further away from its citizens

For over three weeks now, the corridors of the buildings in the European capital have been swept by what is now known as the “Selmayrgate”. What is it about? To make it short, it is the appointment of the new Secretary General of the European Commission, the official in charge of over 33,000 European officials, the top job within highest European Institution. A “technical” position in theory, which whould be the guarantor of the integrity and good management of the European “Government”.

This is the theory. In practice, we are far away from best practices in the public administration. What happened is very serious and unprecedented. Some observers are reminded of the collapse of the Santer Commission in 1999 for a position given to a friend in the Cabinet of Commissioner Gresson. Today Selmayr case is more serious because it casts a shadow on the collegiality and integrity of the whole Commission, since it is President Juncker himself at the centre of this story.

Juncker’s Chief of Staff, Mr Martin Selmayr, a 47-year-old German was promoted twice in a matter of minutes during the February 21st college meeting; first appointed Deputy Secretary General and few minutes later to Secretary General of the European Commission. As President Junker’s Head of Cabinet, Mr Selmayr had the rank of Director, not the rank of Director General nor Deputy Director General, which should have been necessary to be able to run for the highest-ranking post of the European public administration. A position worth 18,000 Euros net a month, just to be clear of what we are talking about.

Not only has this double political promotion never occurred before, it has also breached several Articles of the Staff Regulations of Officials of the European Community. In particular, Article 4 and Article 29. The vacancy was not made public and therefore European officials did not have the opportunity to apply. Not all officials of course; only those with the necessary rank, namely the Director Generals (about forty people) and the Deputy Director Generals (about sixty people).

In fact, it has now emerged that Mr Selmayr was the only candidate for that position. A fake internal competition was organized thanks to the collaboration of his friend, Juncker’s Deputy Head of Cabinet, Ms Clara Martinez, from Spain, who withdrew her candidature for the post just before the end of the procedure to allow Mr Selmayr to stand-alone.

A retreat for which she was rewarded, having been appointed President’s Head of Cabinet now. She will be a faithful puppet of Martin Selmayr, who will now serve, not only as the “political” Secretary General – thus not the neutral, independent Institution’s guarantor – but will continue to control and direct Mr Juncker as he has done until now.

Selmayr was Juncker’s campaign director when he was the “spitzencandidat” the leading candidate for the EPP Political Group for the run to European Commission President. Mr Selmayr is a man of the CDU, a German centre-right formation and member of the European People’s Party. Previously he worked with the Luxembourg former European Commissioner Viviane Reding, and earlier with Elmar Brok, German Member of Parliament of the CDU Party and elected since 1980. Mr Brok is a former President of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Angela Merkel’s “foreign affairs” man in Brussels.

Beyond the violations of the rules and the fundamental principles of good practices in public administration, what happened is a clear abuse of power by President Juncker and his bureaucrat who has become more powerful than the President himself. Article 4 of the Staff Regulations of Officials of the European Community does not assign any particular prerogatives to the President of the Commission for the appointment of the Secretary General. The collegiality of the 28 commissioners has been de facto ignored.

Only the first Vice President of the Commission Mr Timmermans and the German Commissioner Oettinger, responsible for human resources, were informed of the operation the day before the College meeting of the 21st February. Mr Oettinger proceeded with the only “interview” to the only candidate for the post, just one day before the meeting of the college of of 21st February where this double promotion was adopted and “decided”. There is only one way to define all this: a scandal!

Now the European Ombudsman and the Budget Control Committee of the European Parliament have decided to open an inquiry to shed light on the matter. On 18th April, the European Parliament will vote a resolution with potential heavy political consequences for the European Commission. We will see what happens.

And while the political and medias storm here in Brussels continues, we can already make the following assessment: the Selmayrgate is the tip of the iceberg and the symbol of this bureaucratic Europe, increasingly distant from its European citizens. Brexiteers are having a lot of fun these days as the scandal justifies and reinforces in their eyes and those of their voters the choice to exit The EU club.

Moreover, the results of the Italian elections are also the consequence of the increasing distance between the EU institutions and the public. This scandal will not help increase trust or pro-European feelings. The next European elections, in May 2019, may end up with the triumph of anti-European forces and the so-called protest parties. If this happens, it should not come as a surprise; victories in life like defeats are not fatalities but are well prepared in time.

Mr Martin Selmayr says he is a great European. We will see in the coming weeks if, for the sake of Europe and the institutions he claims to believe in, he will stand down. Certainly, the credibility of the Juncker Commission has already been weakened and the reputation of the Institution damaged. I fear that this will be the final blow to the bond and trust between citizens and their European leaders. The latter appear to exploit the Institutions for their personal interests rather than be at their service. No matter how “powerful” the position one might have, one should not forget that they are accountable to European taxpayers.

The European Ombudsman, Mrs O’Reilly, and the Budget Control Commission will be able to request all internal documents related to this matter, including non-public documents. Today more than ever, even this shadowy story shows how the erosion of the Rule of Law is making its way into the heart of Europe. More than ever this scandal shows the necessity of the civil and human Right to Know, the right for every European citizen – who is also a taxpayer – to know how and what decisions are taken by their leaders.

Umberto Gambini
Head of Office of Ramon Tremosa MEP and former assistant to the late Marco Pannella
@UGambini

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