Brussels, 22 February 2019
Note to the attention of mr Günther OETTINGER
Commissioner in Charge of Budget and Human Resources
Subject: Closing of the enquiry of the European Ombudsman concerning the nomination of the new Secretary-General (read)
Resolution of the European Parliament calling on the new Secretary-General to resign
In connection with the appointment procedure of the new Secretary-General we remind once again that the staff has witnessed with dismay the avalanche of articles from an outraged press (see the press review attached to our notes) and the stormy atmosphere during your hearing at the EP (Commission’s Integrity Policy, in particular the appointment of the Secretary General of the Commission … see the video), the over 200 questions that CONT (read) addressed to the Commission, the devastating resolution adopted by the European Parliament Plenary on 18 April (read) and, last but not least, the opening of an inquiry by the Ombudsman Ms O’Reilly.
On 31 August 2018, in a report on an inquiry which will be remembered, the Ombudsman identified four instances of maladministration in the handling of the appointment (link), due to our insitution “not following the relevant rules correctly either in letter or in spirit”.
An untenable ‘bunkerization’ strategy accompanied by communication totally missing the point that has already fuelled Eurosceptic sentiment by increasing the anger of the European Parliament and all observers
In this connection, we have stressed a number of times that the “Last-chance Commission” should urgently recognize the difficulties and reply to the questions uncompromisingly, by explicitly abandoning its disastrous communication strategy of denying the reality or normalizing and minimizing everything that has become impossible to deny.
It is to be noted that this call of R&D is perfectly in line with the conclusions of the Ombudsman:
“the Commission’s communications on this issue, which raised valid concerns, have been defensive, evasive and at times combative”.
However, our attempts to warn you that this ‘bunkerization’ strategy of disastrous communications would further exasperate all those who had denounced the deficits of this nomination procedure remained fruitless.
Likewise, we have asked our institution to finally show a will for sincere cooperation with the other institutions, the press, its staff and the staff representatives, by giving trustworthy and detailed replies to the legitimate questions posed.
And we concluded by confirming that such a radical change of attitude would be the only rational and dignified way of action for this ‘last-chance’ Commission if it sincerely wishes to regain trust as the guardian of the Staff Regulations …
Your reaction after the publication of the Ombudsman’s report
On the contrary, your reaction of 30 October 2018 proved to be in line with the initial approach, criticizable on all points and criticized from all sides.
Indeed, although the Ombudsman confirmed and reasoned her point of view on the appointment procedure of Mr Selmayr which:
“did not follow the relevant rules correctly, both in letter and spirit”
You preferred to interpret her opinion by putting words in her mouth that she had never said, by declaring in a triumphal tone that:
“The Commission is satisfied that the Ombudsmandoes not contest the legality of the appointment procedure or the choice of the candidate”.
The reply of the Commission of 3 December 2018 … in line with the well-known “all is well, Madame Ombudsman, all is well, all is very well …”
On 3 December 2018 our institution replied to the Ombudsman’s report on tens of pages (link) by singing the same arrogant refrain about the ‘absolutely incontestable’ procedure which ‘religiously respected the letter and the spirit of the Staff Regulations’ … with the effect of irritating the Parliament even more.
The resolution of the European Parliament of 13 December calling on Mr Selmayr to “resign” (link)
As a reaction to the Commission’s denial of reality, in a resolution of 13 December 2018 adopted with an overwhelming majority (385 votes ‘yes’, 15 ‘no’, 135 abstained) the European Parliament hardened the tone and invited Mr Selmayr to “resign as Secretary-General” “due to the Commission’s failure to follow the relevant rules correctly, both in letter and spirit”, and its failure “to respect the principles of transparency, ethics and the rule of law”.
As 2019 brings major political deadlines for the European Union, with the rise of Eurosceptic and Europhobic sentiments, the Commission chose to give the finger to its main institutional partner with consequences that were easy to foresee.
This will be easily demonstrated by recalling Parliament’s resolution:
“(…) whereas the Ombudsman conducted an inquiry into how Martin Selmayr, the then Head of Cabinet of the President of the Commission, was appointed Secretary-General of the Commission; whereas the Ombudsman highlighted that the Commission created an artificial sense of urgency to fill the post of Secretary-General in order to justify not publishing a vacancy notice, and organised a selection procedure for Deputy Secretary-General not to fill that role directly, but to make Mr Selmayr Secretary-General in a rapid two-step appointment; whereas the Ombudsman found four instances of maladministration in Mr Selmayr’s appointment due to the Commission’s failure to follow the relevant rules correctly, both in letter and spirit;
22. Believes that the Commission failed to respect the principles of transparency, ethics and the rule of law in the procedure it used to appoint Martin Selmayr as its new Secretary-General; strongly regrets the Commission’s decision to confirm Mr Selmayr as its new Secretary-General, disregarding the extensive and widespread criticism from EU citizens and the reputational damage caused to the EU as a whole; emphasises that Mr Selmayr must resign as Secretary-General and calls on the Commission to adopt a new procedure for appointing its Secretary-General, ensuring that the highest standards of transparency, ethics and the rule of law are upheld”.
You know that this resolution was adopted with an overwhelming majority and even the EPP did not oppose it. It is therefore impossible to continue with the refrain that all criticism comes from forces hostile to the European project and from a malicious press.
On 9 February 2019 the Ombudsman, reminding the Parliament’s vote asking for Mr Selmayr’s resignation, noted with certain bitterness the inanity of the Commission’s replies and confirmed the conclusions of her report without any changes.
The last-chance Commission, the primary responsible for an unprecedented political and confidence crisis!
All observers agree that it is above all the Commission’s ill-considered positions denying obvious problems in this appointment procedure, which have provoked a political crisis of an unprecedented scale.
On the one hand, the duties of the Secretary-General are now assumed by a colleague who, as brilliant and capable as he is, is called on to resign by the legislator.
On the other hand, as if that were not enough, the responsibilities of the President’s Head of Cabinet are now assumed by a colleague who participated in the selection procedure of the Deputy Secretary-General, a procedure which, as Parliament and the Ombudsperson noted is “in violation of Article 4 of the Statute was diverted from its purpose and did not meet its stated purpose – fill the vacancy – but was there so that Mr. Selmayr could be reassigned to as Secretary-General”. She had indeed submitted an application so sui generis that, as the Ombudsman noted, a note from the DG HR of 20 February, initiated at 1:23 pm and finalized at 14:45, describes Mr Selmayr as Deputy Secretary-General whereas as the only other candidate for the same position she retired from the process at 14:58!!!
And as if that were not yet enough, all observers agree that there has been increasing confusion about the division of responsibilities and the interaction between these two.
It is indeed crucial to remind the role and the mission of the Secretary-General as the ultimate guarantor of the independence of the administration of our institution and respect for the Staff Regulations. Thus, while it is necessary for the Secretary-General to have the confidence of the President of the Commission in office, it is equally essential to avoid any confusion between these administrative tasks and the purely political activity of a Head of Cabinet of the President.
As the Ombudsman rightly noted: “Of course, it is a matter for the President to organise his/her own cabinet, and specify how they interact with the Secretary-General. However, the roles are distinct and should be kept so”.
The European Commission is the guardian of our Staff Regulations and not the kingdom of Machiavelli’s Prince where “The end justifies the means”!
The fact that, as the Ombudsman rightly reminded, “Mr Selmayr’s competence and commitment to the European Union are not being questioned”, makes the management of this dossier by our administration even more irresponsible and the number of anomalies established by the Ombudsman totally incomprehensible!
Indeed, everything was organized and managed in the greatest secrecy, calling into question the collegiality of the work of the Commission, in a hurry and with a series of blunders … to appoint Mr Selmayr at any cost and no matter what, thus giving the impression that it was feared that his application would not have been accepted in a “normal” procedure.
“Last-chance Commission” or the last chance for this Commission?
In view of the foregoing, we can only ask our institution to finally demonstrate common sense by accepting the recommendations of the Ombudsman and the European Parliament concerning the procedure to be followed for recruiting its Secretary-General in future:
? specific nomination distinct from other nominations,
? clear and transparent rules,
? mandatory publication of a vacancy notice allowing all persons who are interested and qualified to participate,
? participation in the advisory committee of members external to the institution,
? full, reasoned and accessible information to all members of the College included in the agenda before adopting the decision to guarantee the collegial nature of the appointment decision.
In a few words: quite the contrary to what has occurred almost a year ago!
The College’s mandate will end but the staff will remain to pay the bill!
It is obvious that the consequences of the chaotic management of this dossier by the College, just like that of Barroso and Kroes affaires (link), will continue be borne and will undoubtedly fuel the attacks that the institution but also its staff have suffered from for a very long time.
On our part we can only repeat that the European citizens but also our staff urgently need a Commission that is perfectly honest, fully responsible and genuinely sincere in all circumstances … and especially in its relations with the other institutions and in its communication!
Mr J-C Juncker – President
The members of the College
Mr M. Selmayr – Secretary-General
Ms E. O’Reilly – European Ombudsman
Ms I. Souka, Mr H. Post – DG HR
Mr C. Roques, Mr L. Duluc – DG HR