The Secretary-General's Meteoric Rise

BERLIN/BRUSSELS |

BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Own report) - In the midst of heated criticism, the European Parliament will launch a probe into the meteoric rise of the German, Martin Selmayr, to the position of EU Commission's General Secretary. Selmayr, a controversial figure in the Brussels' bureaucracy, rose to the top of an administration, with a staff of 32,000, under circumstances many consider quite dubious. Observers complain of nepotism in the Commission and speak of conditions similar to those in a "banana republic." Other Germans in Brussels defend Selmayr, for example, Günther Oettinger, the German EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources - whose predecessor quit over her dispute with Selmayr and his long-time sponsor Elmar Brok, currently serving as the EU Parliament's "Brexit-Sherpa." The parliamentary committee in charge of an investigation into Selmayr's meteoric rise is also headed by a German CDU politician. Germans hold many key positions in other EU administrations, such as EU financial institutions. Critics are already warning against the "Germanization" of the EU parliament.

 

"Authoritarian Control of the Commission"

Already prior to his appointment as Secretary General, Martin Selmayr held an extraordinarily influential position in the EU Commission. His career in Brussels began in 2001 as head of the German Bertelsmann media conglomerate's EU office, whose "European representative," Elmar Brok, opened key doors for him. Elmar Brok (CDU) has been a member of the European Parliament since 1980 and Chairman of its Committee on Foreign Affairs from 1999 to 2007 and again from 2012 to early 2017 of which he is still a member. In 2004, Selmayr became first the spokesperson, and in 2010 the Chief of Staff in the Cabinet of the Luxembourger EU Commissioner Viviane Reding, before his promotion to Chief of Staff in the Cabinet of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. According to frequent reports, Selmayr is a "gatekeeper, restricting access to his boss even for high-level commissioners," he has "authoritarian control of the Commission," and he is the "most powerful EU chief of staff ever."[1] His appointment as Secretary General of the EU Commission strengthens his influence - at a time when the term of office of Berlin's close collaborator, Jean-Claude Juncker, is coming to an end.[2] Selmayr could have hardly expected to keep his chief of staff job in the Cabinet for Juncker's successor.

The German Brexit

Selmayr's activities within the framework of the Brexit negotiations have had particularly serious consequences. He has been accused of leaking details of a private conversation between Juncker and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May to a German daily. This seems credible in spite of Selmayr's denial, because, only Juncker, his Chief of Staff (Selmayr), May and one of her advisors had been present during that segment of the conversation. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) The German journal used the leaked information in an article - online also in English - in the run-up to British parliamentary elections, to intervene in the British debate in favor of the opponents of Brexit. The article's statements concerning May ("fearful," "despondent and discouraged," "begged for help") were designed to severely tarnish the British Prime Minister's image. Selmayr, who, as Juncker's chief of staff, had been closely involved in the Brexit negotiations from the very beginning, had once publicly announced "Brexit will never become a success."[4] Sabine Weyand, deputy to the EU's official Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, is another German in a leading position in the Brexit talks. Brok, Selmayrs long-time sponsor, on the other hand, is, as a member of the EP's Brexit Steering Group [5] and as Brexit Coordinator of the European Peoples Party (EPP), also involved in this process.

As Chance would Have it

Selmayr's meteoric rise to EU Commission Secretary-General happened under the responsibility of the German EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, Günther Oettinger. Oettinger has held this position since January 2017. His predecessor Kristalina Georgieva had quit because of her conflict with Selmayr, whom she accused of strong interference in her work and of constantly influencing appointments of senior management personnel to the commission. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[6]) Oettinger declared that he has no problem with Selmayr the sole candidate - the only rival having withdrawn her application at short notice - being promoted, February 21, to deputy Secretary-General of the EU Commission, and, just a few minutes later, to Secretary-General, because the incumbent, at the time, had suddenly and totally unexpectedly gone into early retirement. Eric Bonse, a journalist in Brussels, quotes a spokesperson for the Commission regarding the responsibility for this unconventional procedure,: "It is always the Commissioner in charge of personnel questions" - in this case Oettinger - "who sets the nomination procedure."[7] Due to persistent protests from a large number of parliamentarians, the European Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee will examine the affair. The committee's chair is the German parliamentarian Ingeborg Grässle, who like Oettinger and Brok is a member of the CDU, with which Selmayr is also affiliated.

The German Eurozone

German staff can be found - at times in high concentrations - in several key positions of the European bureaucracies. This is the case for the European External Action Service (EEAS), who's Secretary-General is Helga Schmid. She had held leading positions in the German Foreign Ministry during Josef Fischer's term of office. But it is particularly true of the financial institutions within the eurozone. For example, the economist Klaus Regling, who in the 90s was involved in the preparation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in Germany's Ministry of Finance, is now heading the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). The Single Resolution Board, which oversees the mechanism for bank resolution in the case of bankruptcy, is headed by Germany's former President of the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin), Elke König. President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) is the FDP politician, Werner Hoyer, who from 1994 to 1998 and from 2009 to 2011 had been Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the moment, the German government seeks to place another German in a highly important financial position. It would like to see Bundesbank President, Jens Weidmann, become President of the European Central Bank (ECB).[8] At the ECB, Germany is not only represented by Sabine Lautenschläger-Peiter on the executive board. Last summer 102 of the bank's 328 - or 31 percent - leadership positions had been staffed by Germans. At the EIB, three of the 16 General Directors and 9 of the 65 Directors, as well as 15.9 percent of all heads of departments are Germans. At the ESM, it is more than one-sixth of the personnel.

The "Germanization" of the European Parliament

Germans hold various executive posts also in the European Parliament (EP). Since 2009, the EP's incumbent Secretary General, Klaus Welle, had headed the European Policy Department of the CDU Headquarters in Bonn from 1991 - 1994, before moving to Brussels - initially as the Secretary-General of the European Peoples Party (EPP), and then as the General Secretary of that parliamentary group, and then from 2007 - 2009 as Chief of Staff of EP President Hans-Gert Pöttering (CDU). Welle's Cabinet Chief of Staff is Christian Mangold, who, like the EP President's General Director, Markus Winkler is also German. Winkler, on the other hand, made his career at the side of Martin Schultz (SPD) - initially as a simple parliamentary assistant of Schultz, the parliamentarian, then as office manager of Schultz the chair of the parliamentary group, and ultimately as cabinet chief of staff of EP President Martin Schultz. Three of the EP's six largest parliamentary groups are headed by Germans: for the EPP, Manfred Weber (CSU), for the GUE-NGL, Gabriele Zimmer (Die Linke), the Greens-EFA, co-Chair Ska Keller (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen). Udo Bullmann (SPD) is currently a candidate for Chair of the Social Democratic Group. There is, however, resistance. Critics are explicitly warning against a "Germanization" of the European Parliament.[9]

 

[1] David M. Herszenhorn: "Monster" at the Berlaymont. www.politico.eu 17.11.2016. See also Ein autoritäres Regiment.

[2] See also Particularly Close to Germany.

[3] Thomas Gutschker: Das desaströse Brexit-Dinner. faz.net 01.05.2017. English translation: Thomas Gutschker: The Disastrous Brexit Dinner. faz.net 03.05.2017.

[4] Florian Eder, David M. Herszenhorn: Brexit will never be a success: Juncker's top aide. www.politico.eu 05.05.2017.

[5] Der sechsköpfigen Brexit Steering Group, die die Brexit-Debatten und -Beschlüsse des Europaparlaments vorbereitet und koordiniert, gehört mit Gabriele Zimmer (Die Linke) eine zweite Deutsche an.

[6] See also Eine nie dagewesene Machtkonzentration.

[7] "Oettinger war Herr des Verfahrens". lostineu.eu 05.03.2018.

[8] See also Vom deutschen Euro zur deutschen EZB and From a German Euro to a German ECB (II).

[9] Jorge Valero, Sarantis Michalopoulos: Europas Sozialdemokraten fürchten eine "Germanisierung" des EU-Parlaments. euractiv.de 08.03.2018.