His appointment as Secretary-General of the Commission is now rightly being investigatedby Simon Usherwood / March 15, 2018 / Leave a comment
Secretaries-General are not usually the stuff of news, and not only because of the problems with pluralising their title. Apart from the Secretary-General of the United Nations—and even then I’m guessing you had to think about their name—they are anonymous bureaucrats, who have risen to their high station precisely through being measured and politic.
Martin Selmayr, appointed Secretary-General of the European Commission at the start of this month, risks challenging all these stereotypes, and for the worst of reasons.
But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and outline the case in his favour.
Selmayr is a product of the Brussels bubble, working in and around the EU’s institutions for many years, before becoming attached to Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014. Despite not even being an MEP at the time, Juncker was trying to become the candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party to be President of the Commission, following that year’s European elections. Selmayr was brought in as campaign director, a role that turned into Juncker’s Head of Cabinet and Chief of Staff following a successful election.
In the Commission, each Commissioner (and the President) has a relatively small private office (or Cabinet) to provide political support and guidance and to manage relations with the standing, impartial bureaucracy of the Commission itself: think of it as something like a more regularised version of the special advisers found in Westminster.
Selmayr quickly proved himself to be a central part of Juncker’s office, managing the College of Commissioners, brokering deals and generally putting himself about. Everyone seems to agree that he has been a highly capable figure, on top of his briefs and adept at working across a wide portfolio of issues.
As such, he might seem to be the ideal person to replace Alexander Italianer as Secretary-General: the Dutch-born Italianer retired last month.
So where’s the problem?
Well, these facts convey nothing of the manner in which Selmayr made his move from Head of Cabinet to Secretary-General. Until the day of the announcement, there had been no indication that Italianer was going to retire, either in the media or within the Commission itself. Instead, Juncker called a meeting of the College to announce that Selmayr was to be appointed Deputy Secretary-General,…