19 April 2018

A large majority of the European Parliament have condemned the controversial appointment of Martin Selmayr as EU Commission secretary-general in a resolution, which stated that this “could be viewed as a coup-like action.”

The Parliament has asked the Commission to adopt new rules on appointments by the end of the year, so “that the best candidates are selected within a framework of maximum transparency and equal opportunities.” They then plan to “reassess” Selmayr’s appointment under the new rules.

The response of the European Commission came less than half an hour later, with Commissioner Oettinger stating that it won’t reassess his appointment, claiming that it “cannot be revoked,” that everything happened legally and it “[did not] go against the existing practice followed over many years.”

Furthermore, according to a former Belgian judge in the European Court of Justice, Franklin Dehousse, the appointment is “legally shaky.” He argues that the episode will “destabilize the whole institution,” writing that “for the first time since 1952, the appointment of the secretary-general is both legally shaky and widely contested.”

Although there have been calls for Selmayr to step down, a majority of MEPs voted against this. An official of the European People’s Party, to which Selmayr belongs on behalf of his membership of the Belgian Christian Democrats, said: “We are not going to create a political crisis for the appointment of a high official.” This of course also relates to the fact that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has linked his own fate with that of Selmayr and has quite aggressively forced his EU Commissioners to toe the line here. Interestingly, MEPs also voted against reassessing the European Parliament’s own – troublesome – ways of appointing their own top officials.

Assuming that Selmayr continues to refuse to go, the episode risks being seen as more proof that the EU is going the ‘wrong way’ where sharp practice goes unchecked, even at the highest levels. It also underscores that the European Parliament – recently described by President Juncker as “ridiculous” – is mainly a motor and not a check on the EU Commission machine.

This affair also risks further tarnishing Juncker’s already troubled legacy, which includes presiding over Brexit and a severe breakdown of relations with Central and Eastern Europe.

Nonetheless, it seems that the Commission leadership have made their choice: Selmayr stays on.