Juncker backs top aide in EU promotion row


Brussels (AFP)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker insisted on Friday that his top aide "will not step down" despite a spiralling promotion scandal.

The leaders of France and Germany also said they "appreciated" the work of Juncker's former chief of staff Martin Selmayr -- dubbed "The Monster" by Juncker himself for his capacity for work.

Their comments came after Juncker told his party he would resign if Selmayr was forced out of his new job as secretary general of the commission, a party source told AFP, confirming reports in Politico and Der Spiegel.

The sudden promotion of Selmayr to the position of chief civil servant of the EU's 30,000-strong executive arm has sparked a row that involves allegations of cronyism and a lack of transparency.

The scandal has gained momentum, with official inquests launched by the European Parliament, and the EU's top leaders also asked to weigh in.

"Mr Selmayr will not step down because I am the only one being capable to ask him to step down," Juncker told a news conference after a summit in Brussels.

He dismissed as "irrelevant" a question asking whether by calling for the sacking of Selmayr, the European Parliament could get "two for the price of one."

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

The EU ombudsman, which investigates allegations of malpractice in European institutions, is also analysing the promotion with some European officials voicing concern that there were too many Germans in top jobs.

Pressed on the issue, French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said: "I can completely understand the reactions here and there."

However, Macron underlined: "I always appreciated the professionalism of the man in question who is highly competent and knows Europe well."

Merkel said she too "appreciated Martin Selmayr's work".

"We are not at all of the impression that because of his German nationality he backs Germany. His decisions are very European," she said.

Selmayr, 47 -- Juncker's gatekeeper and enforcer -- was 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 at a meeting of the EU's 28 commissioners who unanimously agreed.