Euro MPs slam promotion of Juncker aide


Strasbourg (France) (AFP)

EU lawmakers on Monday slammed the controversial promotion of a top aide to Jean-Claude Juncker as a "grave error" that undermined the bloc's integrity.

Juncker last month named his chief of staff Martin Selmayr to be the new secretary general of the commission -- the top civil servant in the European Union's executive arm.

Questions have mounted over the way the appointment was made behind closed doors and the European Parliament's budget control committee is now set to investigate.

"Selmayrgate destroys all the credibility of the EU as a champion of integrity and transparency in public administration. At a time when public trust is low this is devastating," Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld said in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

"The commission will have to choose what is more important -- the career of Mr Selmayr or the credibility of the European Union. The appointment of Mr Selmayr was a grave error and it must be corrected."

Hauled before the parliament to answer MEPs' questions, the EU's budger commissioner Guenther Oettinger insisted Selmayr's appointment was done by the book.

"This appointment was not done in some random way, it was done in the letter -- and I believe the spirit -- laid down by European democratic bodies," Oettinger said.

The commission says Selmayr, 47 -- Juncker's gatekeeper and enforcer -- appointed deputy secretary general on February 21 after applying along with one other unnamed candidate.

The same day the existing secretary general resigned and Juncker immediately proposed promoting Selmayr to a meeting of the commissioners who unanimously agreed.

The EU ombudsman, which investigates allegations of malpractice in European institutions, confirmed on Twitter it had received two complaints about the matter and was analysing them.

Belgian Greens MEP Bert Staes said the affair "stinks to high heaven", while Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party called it "the perfect stitch-up".

"This is Juncker's favourite bureaucrat, a fanatic who is now the most powerful bureaucrat in the world, and all of it done without an open procedure," Farage said.

It has even drawn comparisons with the scandal surrounding the commission led by Jacques Santer, which resigned en masse in 1999 over corruption allegations.

"If the Juncker Commission is not careful, it will have the same fate as the Santer Commission," influential Belgian liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt wrote on Twitter.

The budgetary control committee is expected to investigate the matter next week.