EU lawmakers urge review of Juncker aide’s ‘coup-like’ rise

Martin Selmayr was promoted to his position by Jean-Claude Juncker. (AFP pic)

BRUSSELS: EU lawmakers urged European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday to “reassess” the controversial promotion of his main aide, but stopped short of calling for the official to quit.

The European Parliament overwhelmingly backed a motion slamming the sudden “coup-like” rise of Juncker’s German enforcer Martin Selmayr to the top civil service post in the 30,000-person commission in February.

But despite a push by some MEPs for a tougher stance, the resolution adopted by the parliament in Strasbourg did not say that Selmayr, whom Juncker has dubbed “The Monster”, should resign.

The row centres on what critics say was effectively an instantaneous double promotion for Selmayr, Juncker’s 47-year-old former chief of staff, in a single day.

During a meeting of European Commissioners on that day, Selmayr was made first deputy secretary general and then just minutes later secretary general when the incumbent suddenly announced his retirement.

The parliament resolution “asks the commission to reassess the procedure of appointment of the new Secretary-General in order to give other possible candidates… the possibility to apply”.

It also called for the commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, to conduct “open and transparent” procedures in future.

In a strongly worded section, the lawmakers said that Selmayr’s promotion “could be viewed as a coup-like action which stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law”.

But the resolution was not meant to call Selmayr’s position into question, according to the German MEP who proposed the text, Ingeborg Gräßle of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

The EPP is parliament’s largest group and the one that Juncker belongs to.

“I admit the text is ambiguous,” she said, but she said that it referred to the procedure for the choice of the next secretary general of the commission, whenever that happens.

“That will be a task for the new president of the commission” after former Luxembourg prime minister Juncker’s mandate ends in mid-2019.

However Greens MEP Sven Giegold insisted that the resolution did mean that Selmayr’s post should be reopened to new candidates now.

A European Parliament source said the ambiguity “is on purpose” and was aimed at ensuring the resolution would pass.

“Selmayrgate” has threatened to distract the commission just as the EU was hoping to push on with plans for post-Brexit reforms.