Tom Goodenough

Team Juncker shows it has learned nothing from Selmayr-gate

Team Juncker shows it has learned nothing from Selmayr-gate
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Martin Selmayr is no stranger to using Twitter to offer his insight and call out those he thinks have got it wrong. But this morning, on the big news in Brussels, the so-called ‘Monster’ is keeping quiet. While Selmayr has today shared messages about ‘clean vehicles’, ‘TeamJuncker’ and (of course) Brexit, he has had nothing to say on the story relating to the controversial circumstances of his appointment as secretary general of the EU Commission.

This morning, the European Ombudsman closed its inquiry into Selmayr’s elevation to the top job; its findings are damning. The Ombudsman says that ‘Mr Selmayr’s appointment did not follow EU law, in letter or spirit, and did not follow the Commission's own rules.’ In a repeat of its decision last August, the Ombudsman says that ‘the Commission held a selection procedure for Deputy Secretary-General not for the purpose of filling that role, but for the sole purpose of ensuring that Mr Selmayr would become eligible for reassignment as Secretary-General.’ It also found that ‘a sense of urgency was artificially created which facilitated the appointment of Mr Selmayr as Secretary-General’ and that 'the Commission...failed to take appropriate measures to avoid the risk of a conflict of interest arising from the involvement of Selmayr' in the creation of a vacancy for a job he ended up getting.

Unsurprisingly, the European Commission was not happy with the findings. But while it said that it disagreed with the Ombudsman, its actual response ‘presents no new information and does not alter the inquiry findings’, according to the Ombudsman.

So is this the end of Selmayr? Think again. The Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, recommended a series of changes that should be made to prevent a repeat of Selmayrgate. Unfortunately, under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker, it seems safe to say that these will not be happening. EU Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger responded to today’s findings by saying:

‘When it comes to the Recommendation that the appointment of the Secretary-General should be carried out independently from the appointment of any other Director-General, I convened a round table with the other EU Institutions on 25 September 2018. The constructive discussions comforted the European Commission in its view that the way in which the Institutions implement the rules is both adequate and fit for purpose.’

It's good to know the European Commission is 'comforted' – even if those whose job it is to look into complaints against the EU aren't in this case.

So, in short: the Commission's response is simple: nothing to see here, move along. But with the clock ticking towards Brexit, and the EU refusing to budge when it comes to the backstop, this reiteration of the Selmayr verdict presents a problem for Brussels. After all, can the EU really present itself as a stickler for the rules when it comes to negotiating Brexit, if the European Commission is dismissive of the Ombudsman’s finding that Selmayr's appointment did not follow the EU's own rules?