Months after the former head of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker‘s cabinet Martin Selmayr was named Secretary-General of the European Commission, the highest civil servant in the EU, Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has issued a scathing report that identified four counts of gross mismanagement by the Commission during the appointment process.
Following a lengthy internal investigation into the process, O’Reilly ruled that the way in which Selmayr found himself in charge of the 32,000-strong EU bureaucracy “stretched, and possibly even overstretched, the limits of the law”. She also personally criticised Juncker for “inappropriately blurring the lines between administrative independence and political closeness”.
The EU executive came under further fire from O’Reilly for the way it engaged the media in the days immediately after Selmayr was given the top job. According to O’Reilly, the Commission was found to be “defensive, evasive, and at times combative” when asked about the lack of transparency regarding Selmayr’s appointment.
The College of Commissioners also earned a strong rebuke from O’Reilly for the secrecy surrounding former Secretary-General Alexander Italiener’s retirement, which O’Reilly said created an “artificial urgency” to quickly fill the post. “It (the College) also organised a Deputy Secretary-General selection procedure that was not intended to fill the role, but rather to make way for Mr Selmayr to be named Secretary-General through a rapid two-step appointment.”
She noted that the remainder of the 27 members of the College did not challenge Selmayr’s appointment as a deputy to his predecessor just minutes before being promoted to the Secretary-General of the European Commission.
“All of this risked jeopardising the hard-won record of high EU administrative standards and consequently, the public trust,” said O’Reilly.
The German-born Selmayr has worked at the Commission since 2004. He rose to prominence in 2014 when he was handpicked by Juncker to be his chief of staff. At a meeting of European commissioners on February 21, Selmayr was appointed deputy secretary-general after the existing top civil servant, Italianer, suddenly announced that he was retiring.
The move to name Selmayr as a deputy secretary-general put him in a position to be legally promoted to take over for Italianer. Immediately after Selmayr was named to his new post, Juncker reportedly suggested that his former chief of staff should become the next secretary-general.
O’Reilly sharply criticised Selmayr for not recusing himself during the decision-making process that led him to fill the deputy vacancy, which she classified as an exercise aimed at “making Mr Selmayr eligible for his immediate reassignment as the new secretary-general”.