New secretary general in the European Commission reaches out to staff after being questioned on parachuting to his post

Martin Selmayr, head of the cabinet of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was last week appointed to secretary-general of the Commission in a swift procedure. On 21 February, on the very same day as the previous secretary-general announced his resignation, Selmayr was promoted from deputy secretary-general to secretary-general as of 1 March. This morning, on his first working day as secretary-general, Selmayr told all Commission staff in an email that he is “very proud to be working with more than 32,000 talented and committed people. YOU are the pulse of the European Commission.”

“I would like the Secretariat-General to be not only the machine that keeps our institution running but also to be the heart and soul of the European Commission,” he writes.

“Because it is not the number of pages of laws published in the Official Journal that measures our success, but our contribution to a Europe based on our common values, our cultural diversity and the spirit of solidarity.”

In his email he promises to communicate openly and transparently with all staff and expects the same from them in return.

One of the unions, Renoveau & Démocratie, sent Wednesday an open letter to Martin Selmayr, asking him if his appointment was not an example of the old practice of “parachuting”, which he himself is reported to have criticized in the past as demotivating for the rest of the staff who are not promoted with the same speed as cabinet members.

“Your appointment is the most spectacular case of ‘parachuting’ of a member of cabinet: for the first time in the history of our institution, a cabinet member becomes secretary general without never have been responsible for a Directorate-General,” writes Cristiano Sebastiani, chairman of the union.

The decision to transfer Selmayr from one post to another was taken by the College, the decision-making body of all commissioners, the very same day as the previous general-secretary resigned. The post as secretary-general is the considered the most senior civil servant post in the Commission.

Selmayr, a German national, did not have time to serve as deputy secretary-general as he just had been appointed to this post after it was announced on 31 January. After two weeks he was called to an assessment center and the following day interviewed by Gunther Oettinger, the commissioner responsible for human resources in the Commission.

The previous secretary-general, Alexander Italianer, a Dutch national, confirmed in a Dutch newspaper that he had informed president Juncker already 3 years ago about his intention to resign on 1 March 2018.

At a stormy press conference on Monday, a spokesperson for the Commission described the procedure for finding a successor to Italianer as “perfectly normal and legal and in accordance with the rules in both letter and spirit. When Italianer resigned we had to act quickly because we didn’t want a gap in the post.”

Asked why the Commission did not start looking for a successor much earlier, if it knew that he would resign, the spokesperson replied that the Commission did not want to disrupt his work by announcing the vacancy long time in advance. He admitted that only two persons had applied for the post as deputy secretary-general.

The Brussels Times

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