Angry MEPs attack Juncker over elevation of his 'monster' Selmayr

Appointment of Martin Selmayr comes under attack, but allies accuse critics of being anti-German

Jean-Claude Juncker’s European commission has been thrown into crisis as the unorthodox appointment of his chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, to lead the EU’s civil service, was attacked during a fiery European parliament debate.

Günther Oettinger, the German commissioner for human resources who was the commission’s representative in the chamber, was accused of treating MEPs as fools when he insisted the commission had done “everything by the book”.

An investigation is to be launched by one of the parliament’s committees into the process that led to Selmayr’s elevation to secretary general. A vote will be held at a later date on whether the parliament will call for Juncker to reverse the appointment of the man he jokingly refers to Selmayr as the “monster” of the Berlaymont due to his tough work ethic and attention to detail.

The issue has been a source of consternation across the political spectrum since details started to leak last month. There have been claims, vehemently denied by the commission, that institutional norms were ignored and obstacles to the appointment removed through charm, menace and favour.

The German-born official had been appointed deputy secretary general at a meeting in February, just minutes before Juncker informed the 28 commissioners that the current secretary general, Alexander Italianer, from the Netherlands, was quitting. Juncker then told the commissioners that he would like Selmayr, a member of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, to take Italianer’s place.

The college of commissioners, which had no previous discussion of the issue, was asked to make an immediate decision, and a press conference was organised shortly afterwards.

In response to the torrent of criticism on Monday, Oettinger told the MEPs: “I don’t treat you like children. I have respect for you … Can we please be respectful of each other? I look forward to seeing the outcome of your investigation.

“This appointment was done within the letter and, I believe, the spirit of the rules laid down by European democratic bodies … [Selmayr] is not a monster, he is not a party man. Give him a chance, please give him a chance. Let him do his job under your eagle eye. Let’s not turn him into some kind of monster.”

Those with whom Selmayr has locked horns in the past have been quick to seize on the affair. Nick Timothy, a former adviser to Theresa May, who clashed with Selmayr over his alleged role in leaking information from a Downing Street dinner, has accused the commission official of executing a “palace coup”.

But during the debate in parliament on Monday evening, even Françoise Grossetête, a French MEP and spokeswoman for Selmayr’s own political tribe, the European People’s party, spoke of her concern that Euroscepticism would be fuelled by a perception that top posts were being “arranged among friends”.

The Dutch MEP Sophie in ’t Veld, speaking for the liberal group in the chamber led by Guy Verhoftstadt, said her party could not support the Juncker commission if Selmayr stayed in post. She said Oettinger’s comments in defence of the appointment had made the matter worse and he had treated MEPs as stupid.

She said: “I am left speechless at the scene of 28 top politicians, selected for the political leadership of this continent, led by the nose by a civil servant. The commission will have to choose what is more important: the credibility of the commission or the career of Mr Selmayr. The two are irreconcilable.”

Friends and colleagues of Selmayr claimed that those criticising the appointment were playing “nasty political games”, “navel-gazing” and indulging in an “overdose of House of Cards”.

Selmayr’s defenders suggested that the row, now in its third week, was the result of an unholy plot between “the left” and those who dislike Juncker’s commission over its tough line on the rule of law in Poland and Hungary, along with some anti-German elements.

Sophie in ’t Veld.
The Dutch MEP Sophie in ’t Veld said her party could not support the Juncker commission if Selmayr stayed in post. Photograph: Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Elmar Brok MEP, a senior member of the CDU and EPP, said: “In the whole history of the EU, there was never a German secretary general of the European commission. The last commission president who was German was Walter Hallstein 50 years ago. I think there should be a possibility after all these years that one of these posts is filled by a German.

“This has been an anti-German and anti-Christian politics move. No one is suggesting that Selmayr would not do a good job. It is a nasty political game. He has leadership. He makes people work and he has a clear opinion, a pro-European opinion.”

Germany’s finance minister, Peter Altmaier, said it was “not the first line of questioning what nationality someone is, but whether he’s a good European

A commission spokesperson said: “Everything was done strictly by the book and, as a result, we have an excellent secretary general. And nobody contests that.”

The European ombudsman said on Monday that it was looking into two complaints about the manner of Selmayr’s appointment.


Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Jean-Claude Juncker criticises 'ridiculous' European parliament
Outburst from European commission chief over empty seats in chamber provokes rebuke from parliament’s president

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

04, Jul, 2017 @11:41 AM

Article image
Merkel ally hoping to succeed Juncker says European identity is key issue
German politician Manfred Weber becomes first to throw his hat into ring to become next European commission president

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

06, Sep, 2018 @10:00 PM

Article image
EU watchdog finds Juncker broke rules to promote political ally
European commission criticised over appointment of Martin Selmayr to top job

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

04, Sep, 2018 @12:04 PM

Article image
MEPs raise cronyism concerns at hiring of Juncker successor
Martin Selmayr has had meteoric rise to secretary general leading some MEPs to criticise process

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

27, Mar, 2018 @5:42 PM

Article image
Replacing Juncker and Tusk: who is in the frame for EU's top jobs?
Candidates range from Barnier and Vestager to the less well known Manfred Weber

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

28, May, 2019 @3:52 PM

Article image
Jean-Claude Juncker criticises EU over Covid vaccine spat with UK
Former European commission chief also says bloc has been too cautious in its procurement

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

25, Mar, 2021 @12:44 PM

Article image
'Stop bashing the EU', Jean-Claude Juncker tells European leaders
EU commission president says politicians should stop blaming the bloc for issues it cannot control as he lays out plan for future

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

01, Mar, 2017 @3:28 PM

Article image
Juncker calls on EU to seize chance to become major sovereign power
European commission president sets out vision of how to expand EU’s ‘clout’ on world stage

Daniel Boffey in Strasbourg

12, Sep, 2018 @4:50 PM

Article image
EU declares migration crisis over as it hits out at 'fake news'
European commission combats ‘untruths’ over issue after row with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

06, Mar, 2019 @12:40 PM

Article image
Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed as European commission president

Former Luxembourg prime minister wins 422 votes from 751-seat parliament as focus moves to filling other top EU roles

Ian Traynor in Brussels

15, Jul, 2014 @12:51 PM