Opinion

Why Martin Selmayr had to go

The departure of Martin Selmayr from the position of secretary-general of the European Commission overflows with poetic justice. With the inevitability of a Wagnerian opera (but a quicker endgame), Selmayr had to leave because of the way he arrived.

The procedure by which Selmayr and his boss, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, engineered his transfer from chief of Junckers cabinet to head of the entire Commission secretariat was an act of such chicanery and skulduggery that it stains the record of the entire Commission.

Ursula von der Leyen, the nominee to replace Juncker, knows that — and perhaps Selmayr knows it too.

After von der Leyen hinted at his upcoming departure, Selmayr told POLITICO Playbook he is leaving next week after only 17 months in the post. He will have the distinction of being its briefest-ever occupant.

The post of secretary-general is not, in theory, a political position. The appointment is made internally by the college of European commissioners and doesnt require the approval of the European Council or the European Parliament.

Before becoming secretary-general, Selmayr had served as the head of office for two commissioners — first Viviane Reding (he had previously been her spokesperson), then Juncker.

But in the process of defending the indefensible, Selmayr and his allies politicized the position — and in so doing they sowed the seeds for his departure.

Selmayr and his allies portrayed the job as one that had to be filled by someone who enjoyed the fullest confidence of the president of the Commission — someone much like the head of Junckers cabinet, the job that Selmayr had held for the previous three and a bit years.

In pushing that vision of the position forward, Selmayr eroded the distinction established over several decades between the offices of the commissioners — the cabinets — which were filled by personal appointments, and the permanent civil service, in which advancement was governed by competition and grades.

Before becoming secretary-general, Selmayr had served as the head of office for two commissioners — first Viviane Reding (he had previously been her spokesperson), then Juncker. Most of his predecessors as secretary-general had also headed a cabinet, but they had experience working as head or deputy head of a Commission department. Selmayr did not.

The distinguishing feature of Selmayrs working life thus far has been fierce, unswerving loyalty — to Elmar Brok, to Reding and to Juncker | Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

The European ombudsman, Emily OReilly, in her report on the affair, detailed other ways in which Selmayr was not qualified for the position of secretary-general and how he and Juncker went about circumventing the Commissions own procedural rules.

The fact that there would be a vacancy for the post of secretary-general — that the incumbent Alexander Italianer wanted to retire — was kept secret from the rest of the college of European commissioners. A vacancy for the post of deputy secretary-general was created (by moving the incumbent aside), so that Selmayr could be appointed to that post and, four minutes later, promoted to secretary-general.

The ombudsman observed that the vacancy for deputy secretary-general had been created by breaching the convention that a director-general should not be of the same nationality as the Commissioner responsible for his or her department. The previous deputy secretary-general, Paraskevi Michou, a Greek national (and Selmayr protegée) was transferred at short notice to be director-general for migration, working to Stavros Avramapoulos, Greeces European commissioner.

That was not the only principle sacrificed to promote Selmayr. The Juncker Commissions flagship personnel policy was to increase the number of women in middle and senior management.

The numbers did improve, but the sincerity of the leaderships commitment to the policy was put in question by the shenanigans surrounding Selmayrs (interimRead More – Source