Top liberal MEPs today called on Martin Selmayr, the European Commission’s new chief civil servant, to resign or they would attempt to remove the current Commission from office. MEPs have already supported an investigation into Selmay’s controversial appointment by the budgetary affairs committee, and the European Ombudsman is also investigating the affair.
A censure vote to remove the EU executive requires a two thirds majority in the Parliament.
Juncker Commission could “have the same face as the Santer Commission”
Deputy liberal leader Sophie In’t Veld said Selmayr’s appointment was a “grave error” which must be corrected, highlighting that his removal was a “precondition for our continued support for this commission.”
“If the college of commissioners act like helpless children and are led by the nose by a civil servant, how can we expect them to stand up to the likes of Trump during a trade war?”, she added.
EU Commissioner for Human Resources Günther Oettinger defended the appointment, saying that Martin Selmayr should not be turned into “some kind of monster”, and pleaded with MEPs to give him a chance.
Oettinger also pointed out that the European Parliament helped author the current laws, and that if MEPs didn’t like them, they should propose changing them.
The leader of the liberals, Guy Vehofstadt, later tweeted that if the Juncker Commission is not careful, it will “have the same fate as the Santer Commission.”
The Santer Commission resigned en-masse in 1999 after a threat of a censure vote from the European Parliament, following news breaking of corruption and maladministration in the Commission.
Controversy dogging the Commission for weeks
The Commission has been repeatedly forced to defend the appointment of Selmayr for weeks, following the initial news breaking from French journalist Jean Quatremer.
It has emerged that Selmayr originally ran for the post of deputy secretary general, which is required before a person can become secretary general. The only other candidate he was running against for the deputy post, Clara Martinez Alberola, withdrew from the running before the final decision was made, and she is now Juncker’s head of cabinet, taking Selmayr’s old position.
Juncker then reportedly announced, previously unbeknown to the Commissioners, that the then-secretary general Alexander Italianer was going to resign, and only a couple of minutes later Selamyr was elevated into the top job. He said he knew Italianer was going to resign since 2015, but there has been no denial that Selmayr didn’t also know this fact when choosing to run.
It was alleged that the Commissioners were potentially offered new benefits, such as an increase in allowances and acquiring a car after leaving office, potentially to win their support, but the Commission strictly denies this occurred.
It has also been suggested that Selmayr wanted to reorganise the Commission’s independent Legal Service to bring it more under his control, but this has also been firmly denied by the Commission.
Not just the liberals that are highly critical of the appointment
Hungarian MEP Gyorgy Schopflin questioned why anyone should listen to the Commission’s concerns over the rule of law when it ignores the law when it feels like it.
French Green MEP Pascal Durand said that Selmayr’s appointment was “undermining the credibility of Europe”, and that what the Commission is doing “is worse than then nationalists and extremists.
Others, such as conservative Czech MEP Jan Zahradil, asked whether the minutes of the Commission meeting were amended to include discussions about candidates that didn’t exist, with some going as far as to allege they were fabricated.
Multiple members of the Parliament also blasted Commission President Juncker for his absence during the debate, considering his role in bringing about Selmayr’s appointment.
However, Oettinger stood firm in his defence of Juncker, saying it was the heads of the European political parties that requested he in particular address the European Parliament.
Though relatively few parliamentary voices spoke in defence of the appointment, Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat yesterday said that critics were “targeting” someone who changed the Commission into a more functional body, and said that he deserves credit for his role in keeping the EU united during the Brexit negotiations.