Brussels | Sept 05 (Tirana Echo) – The European Commission, which monitors the European integration of Western Balkan countries, has come under renewed fire over its lack of transparency and its preferential treatment in catapulting Martin Selmayr to its top General Secretary position.
A scathing report by the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, has strongly criticized the Commission over the rapid and non-transparent hiring of Jean-Claude Juncker’s Chief of Staff into the Commission’s top civil servant position, without respecting hiring procedures and without giving others a chance to apply.
Mr. Selmayr, a German lawyer known for his ruthless, all-powerful and micromanaging style in running the Commission, has previously been criticized of stepping into Mr. Juncker’s shoes when his boss is often ‘off-duty’.
Selmayr has worked for the Commission since 2004 and became known when he masterminded the campaign of Jean-Claude Juncker to become President of the Commission.
His sudden and surprising transfer last February from Chief of Staff to the General Secretary position, raised eyebrows across Brussels, especially as Mr. Juncker kept his fellow commissioners in the dark about the appointment until the very last minute, when they were asked to confirm Mr. Selmayr in the job.
The malpractice says the Ombudsman, risks damaging EU administrative standards and undermines public trust in EU institutions.
Following a 5 month investigation into two complaints, the European Ombudsman, has found “four instances of maladministration in the appointment of the European Commission’s Secretary-General in February 2018”.
The European Parliament debated the issue and passed a resolution in its plenary session on 18 April 2018. Given the facts of the inquiry, the Ombudsman agrees with the EP’s assessment that the affair damaged trust in EU institutions and that the double-appointments “stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law”.
The latest findings by the European Ombudsman point to the maladministration arising due to the Commission not following the relevant rules correctly either in letter or in spirit.
“The Commission created an artificial sense of urgency to fill the post of Secretary-General in order to justify not publishing a vacancy notice. It also organized a Deputy Secretary-General selection procedure, not to fill that role, but rather to make Mr. Selmayr Secretary-General in a rapid two-step appointment.” – underlines the Report.
In addition the Ombudsman notes that the Commission’s communications on this issue, which raised valid concerns, have been “defensive, evasive and at times combative”.
“Our inquiry was based on an inspection of thousands of pages of Commission internal documents, and it shows the precise steps the Commission took in order to make the appointment process appear normal. All of this risked jeopardizing the hard won record of high EU administrative standards and consequently, the public trust.” – notes the Report.
Commission Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas defended the appointment of Martin Selmayr and repeatedly clashed with reporters during the regular daily briefing.
“The Commission does not agree with points of fact and analysis in the report, and we will issue a formal response later this month,” – Schinas said.
While fiercely clashing with journalists at the briefing, he bizarrely declared that the Commission “provided unprecedented transparency and information” on the Secretary General appointment.
The report points at a chronic problem in the hiring procedures of EU institutions as the Block prepares for European elections next year and gets ready to digest the departure of one of its most important members, the United kingdom.
At a time of growing Euro-skepticism and the rise of far right parties in Italy, Hungary and Sweden, the damaging credentials of EU’s top institutions do not help strengthen public trust in the European Union and may further harm the chances of the two main parliamentary groups the EPP and S&D to form a coalition.
Misappropriations and malpractices often go unnoticed or are kept quiet within the EU in order to avoid public shame, as it was the case with former EU Ambassador to Albania Romana Vlahutin who was accused by Albanian media of allegedly being involved in a corruption affair in buying a 1,6m Euro Villa in a luxury compound in Tirana on behalf of the EU Delegation.
The affair reportedly prompted the EU Anti Fraud office OLAF to investigate into the matter, without any public findings on the matter, although OLAF neither declined, nor confirmed the probe to Tirana Echo.
The Ombudsman points her finger at all European Commissioners who failed to observe or denounce the wrongdoing within the Commission’s administration.
“The College of Commissioners collectively is responsible for the maladministration in this case. It is extraordinary that no Commissioner seemed to question the Secretary-General appointment procedure, which in the end raised valid widespread concerns.” – said Ms O’Reilly after publishing her report.
The European Commission is the executive body which also monitors the enlargement process of Western Balkan countries, often telling them how to improve democratic credentials and fight corruption and nepotism in their public administrations.
The ‘Selmayr Scandal’ further damages the credibility of the Commission not only within EU member states, but also across a region of corrupt countries where fraud and nepotism is pervasive and where their citizens look up to the European Union for better governing standards.
Following the report, the Ombudsman has called on the Commission to develop a specific and separate appointment procedure for its Secretary-General to prevent a repeat of this happening. The procedure should include publishing a vacancy notice, placing it on the agenda of the weekly Commissioners’ meeting and also including external experts in the consultative committee for the appointment.
Following two complaints to her office, the Ombudsman, who works with EU institutions, agencies and bodies to achieve the highest standard of administrative practices possible, conducted a 5-month inquiry into how Mr. Martin Selmayr, the then Head of Cabinet of the President of the European Commission Jean Claude-Juncker, was appointed Secretary-General of the Commission in February 2018.
The outgoing Secretary-General, Mr. Italianer, who had indicated his intention to retire to President Juncker in 2018 when he was first appointed in 2015, was replaced by Mr. Selmayr without a competition and without any formal consideration of other candidates. As the vacancy was not published, no other candidates could apply.
According to the Ombudsman, this was not unprecedented. However in order to be fully eligible for such a direct reassignment, Mr. Selmayr first had to apply to become Deputy Secretary-General. Mr. Selmayr and another member of the Cabinet were the only two applicants for the job.
As the other member withdrew before the process was completed, preparatory steps for appointing Mr. Selmayr as Secretary-General were already being taken one day before the formal completion of the selection process for Deputy Secretary-General.
When valid concerns were raised in relation to how the surprise double-appointments were made, the Commission reacted in an evasive, defensive and legalistic manner, which served further to increase concerns.
The European Parliament debated the issue and passed a resolution in plenary on 18 April 2018. Given the facts of the inquiry, the Ombudsman agrees with its assessment that the affair damaged trust in EU institutions and that the double-appointments “stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law”.
Based on her inquiry, the Ombudsman now recommends that the Commission develop a specific appointment procedure for Secretary-General, separate from the procedure for other senior appointments.
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