EU lawmakers urge review of Juncker aide's 'coup-like' rise

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EU lawmakers urged European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday to "reassess" the controversial promotion of his top aide, but stopped short of calling for the official to quit.

The European Parliament overwhelmingly backed a motion slamming the sudden "coup-like" rise of Martin Selmayr to the top civil service post in the 30,000-person commission in February.

But despite a push by some MEPs for a tougher stance, the resolution adopted by the parliament in Strasbourg did not say that German official Selmayr -- whom Juncker has dubbed "The Monster" -- should resign.

The European Commission insisted it would not revoke his appointment, but said it would look at how to improve the hiring process in future.

The row centres on what critics say was effectively an instantaneous double promotion for Selmayr, Juncker's 47-year-old former chief of staff, in a single day.

During a meeting of European Commissioners on that day, Selmayr was made first deputy secretary general and then just minutes later secretary general when the incumbent suddenly announced his retirement.

The parliament resolution "asks the commission to reassess the procedure of appointment of the new Secretary-General in order to give other possible candidates... the possibility to apply".

It also called for the commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, to conduct "open and transparent" procedures in future.

In a strongly worded section, the lawmakers said that Selmayr's promotion "could be viewed as a coup-like action which stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law".

- 'Followed the rules' -

EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement that commission had "followed all the rules both in spirit and to the letter" when it came to Selmayr's promotion.

"The resolution rightly states that the Commission decision to appoint its new secretary-general cannot be revoked and we will not do so, as we respect the Staff Regulations," it said.

But it was "ready to reassess.. how the application of the current rules and procedures can be improved in the future," the German commissioner said.

MEPs disagreed over how harsh the resolution was.

The German MEP who proposed the text, Ingeborg Graessle of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), said it was not meant to call Selmayr's position into question. The EPP is parliament's largest group and the one that Juncker belongs to.

"I admit the text is ambiguous," Graessle told AFP, but she said that it referred to the procedure for the choice of the next secretary general of the commission, whenever that happens.

"That will be a task for the new president of the commission" after former Luxembourg prime minister Juncker's mandate ends in mid-2019.

However Greens MEP Sven Giegold insisted that the resolution did mean that Selmayr's post should now be reopened to new candidates.

A European Parliament source said the ambiguity "is on purpose" and was aimed at ensuring the resolution would pass.

"Selmayrgate" has threatened to distract the commission just as the EU was hoping to push on with plans for post-Brexit reforms.

The British press has previously dubbed Selmayr -- blamed for damaging leaks about Prime Minister Theresa May during Brexit talks -- "Rasputin", after the influential but mad monk attached to the Russian royal court in the early 1900s.

Juncker himself called Selmayr his "monster", although that was reputedly because of the former lawyer's capacity for hard work.

© 2018 AFP

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