The past few weeks, European news coverage has been fervently reporting on an issue that raises questions in the European institutions and beyond. Martin Selmayr, once Juncker’s chief of staff, mysteriously got promoted to secretary-general of the European Commission. Numerous media outlets report that the appointment is nothing short of corruption.
The speed and secrecy around the appointment of Selmayr as secretary-general raise most concerns. For a long time there were no candidates – and all of the sudden there was Selmayr. As chief of staff, Selmayr already held a high position as civil servant and, most importantly, was a close aid of Juncker. Lacking the right qualifications for the job as secretary-general, Juncker decided to first promote Selmayr to adjunct secretary-general before being able to put him forward as secretary general. This double promotion occurred within minutes and only few of the 28 commissioners that needed to approve Selmayr in his new position were aware of this. Additionally, there were no other candidates brought forward, making Selmayr the only option. Rumor has it that Selmayr himself also aspired the position as top civil servant and was not simply pushed by Juncker into the position. Some news outlets even reported that he bribed commissioners, promising them certain financial benefits when they would approve his application. According to Members of European Parliament, this case reeks of nepotism.
Nothing new under the sun
Opponents of the commotion around the appointment argue that other Commission Presidents also pushed through their own picks for secretary-general. The secretary-general that preceded Selmayr, Alexander Italianer, was also appointed as sole candidate. This politics behind closed doors in the commission is thus nothing new. Opponents point out that the commotion around Selmayr is possibly a personal issue. Selmayr is an outspoken federalist and known as a fierce gate-keeper who does not easily settle. Consequently, he has made many enemies along the way, but this does not keep him from being an excellent secretary-general.
Hypocrisy and points of improvement
Nevertheless, in the age of Euroscepticism, the Selmayr affaire does not come at an advantageous time. Especially concerning Poland and Hungary, the Commission is accused of hypocrisy. While both the Polish and Hungarian governments are accused of lacking free and fair elections, the European institutions themselves seem to be suffering from much more than just a democratic deficit. If the EU aspires to be taken seriously not only by its elites, but also its citizens, both the democratic deficit in the European Parliament and the politics behind closed doors in the Commission must be taken care of. As a first step, the European Parliament voted unanimously to start an enquiry into the Selmayr affair.
Author: Eva Durlinger