No Beauty, All Beast

Monday 3rd September was a pretty important day in Brussels. 

No, it wasn’t not the start of the sprout harvest, nor international waffle day, nor even a day of solidarity in support of a generic and predictably beige campaign. 

Monday was the day Emily O’Reilly, the EU Ombudsman, published her report into the promotion of Martin Selmayr (known in the Brussels Bubble as The Beast of the Berlaymont) to Secretary General of the European Commission, a role equivalent to that of Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office in the UK. It hit the new sites and papers across Europe yesterday.

Ms O’Reilly’s report is damning, concluding in part:

“…[The Commission held] a selection procedure for a Deputy Secretary-General, which did not serve its stated purpose to fill the vacancy, but rather only to ensure that Mr Selmayr would be eligible for reassignment as Secretary-General…

“…The Ombudsman conclusions following her inquiry are largely similar to those of the European Parliament as expressed in its Resolution of 18 April 2018. The Parliament expressed the view that the Commission’s actions in this case had undermined public trust in the EU, that they ran contrary to the spirit of those requirements; and that the appointment of Mr Selmayr was a “coup-like action which stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law”. The Ombudsman agrees with Parliament that “the tradition of non-publication has reached its limits insofar as it does not correspond to modern standards of transparency, the Commission, the European Parliament and other EU institutions should abide…

“The Ombudsman also notes that responsibility for the maladministration in this case rests with the European Commission collectively. The Ombudsman, like Parliament, is disappointed that no individual Commissioner appears to have seriously questioned the manner in which the appointment of the Secretary-General was conducted. It seems extraordinary that in the course of a very short meeting, at which other business was also dealt with, that the College should have approved, successively, the appointment of Mr Selmayr, first as Deputy Secretary-General, and then as Secretary-General. And all of this in a context where the proposed appointment of a new Secretary-General was not on the meeting agenda and no background papers had been circulated.”

You won’t see much about it in British media though and what you do see will be framed around Selmayr’s relationship with outgoing Commission President, Jean-Claude Junker. This is but a skin-deep understanding of the power Martin Selmayr has built within Brussels and how he has done so. His execution of the disturbing, if fleet-footed, two-step into the job of Secretary-General in February has taken him to the very top of Commission Officialdom.

Given the likely coming political instability in the European Parliament, there will in the next few months be an increased scrum between the European Council, headed by Donald Tusk, and the European Commission, headed by Martin Selmayr. The first shots were fired months ago, whoever comes out on top will help define the UK’s future relationship with the EU27, future EU27 policy objectives and the nature of the future of the EU.

The British Government and our Public Affairs community should take note of Selmayr’s newfound power, his agenda and his unrelenting pursuit to increase the scope of both. We all need to be tuned into this.

By Daniel Paterson, Senior Counsel.