A handful of senior appointments to the European Parliament’s secretariat will be made in the coming months through backroom political deals rather than a transparent recruitment process, according to trade unions and officials within the assembly.
Six Parliament officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said that eight individuals are allegedly destined to be the successful candidates for the director-level positions within the Parliament’s civil service.
They said that at least five individuals have been selected by the Parliament’s most powerful civil servant, Secretary-General Klaus Welle, either because he wants them for the job or as a result of deals among the assembly’s largest political groups.
These claims are bound to increase already heightened scrutiny of top appointments in EU institutions, and expose the Parliament to accusations of double standards. Members of Parliament have pushed for an inquiry into the quick promotion of Martin Selmayr last month to the most powerful civil servant job in the European Commission.
In a letter sent to Parliament President Antonio Tajani on Tuesday, Pilar Antelo, the chair of the staff committee, expressed concern at “the increasing politicization and manipulation of our senior appointment procedures.”
“When access to the most senior jobs in our institution derives from shady, backroom deals, political machinations and fast-tracking of favored individuals who have the right political colors or influential mentors, we demotivate scores of capable colleagues,” she wrote.
Antelo remarked in the letter that MEPs have been highly critical of Selmayr’s fast-track appointment. “We regret to say that the situation in our house is not better when it comes to fair and transparent senior appointments,” she added.
Parliament ‘literally a glass house’
In a plenary debate earlier this month, Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told her colleagues that Selmayr’s promotion reflected badly on the EU institutions. “The Commission will have to choose what is more important, the career of Mr. Selmayr or the credibility of the EU,” she said.
Critics said the Parliament has for years employed similar recruitment work-arounds to get favored candidates into senior jobs, and MEPs have been less quick to condemn the practices closer to home. “MEPs should be careful,” a senior Parliament official said. “We have an expression in English: ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.’ As the Parliament is literally a glass house — though not a very transparent one — its residents should be extra cautious about throwing stones.”
German MEP Bernd Koemel, budget spokesperson for the European Conservatives and Reformists, said his group was “growing increasingly concerned at the number of political appointments within Parliament’s civil service,” adding that “this undermines trust and makes you question the service’s independence.”
Referring to the plenary hearing on Selmayr’s appointment, six trades unions, including the Union Syndicale Luxembourg, whose members work in the Parliament, wrote in an email to MEPs and Parliament staffers: “Isn’t there something a little bit hypocritical in Monday’s MEP outrage?
“At almost the exact same time all political groups were condemning behind-the-scenes wrangling at the Commission … in the pipeline there’s yet another package of directors jobs stitched up between the big political groups and Mr. Klaus Welle.”
All eight director-level positions that are due to be filled are at staff grade AD 14 and command a salary of at least €14,000 per month. Under the rules, any applicant must already be staff grade AD 13 or higher to be considered as an internal applicant. An AD 13 staffer will have at least 20 years of experience in the Parliament, in addition to having outside experience.
Six of the positions have been advertised externally. But officials said this gives Welle even more latitude to appoint whomever he wants for the job. As Pilar points out in her letter, publishing a post externally means that the minimum requirements in a job description can be relaxed compared to an internal appointment — in effect, making it easier to appoint an internal candidate even if he or she does not meet stated requirements for the job, including not being at the necessary staff grade.
“The reason for publishing in the Official Journal, and then giving the post to somebody who is already inside [either in the Parliament administration or the political group staff] is because this allows candidates well below the AD 13 grade to apply for an AD 14 director post,” a senior Parliament official said.
Long line of promotions
One of the allegedly pre-determined appointments — to head up the Directorate for Legislative Coordination and Conciliations — is Alessandro Chiochetti, who is currently Tajani’s deputy chief of staff in charge of internal affairs.
Parliament officials said Chiochetti, a former MEP assistant, is Welle’s preferred candidate, but he doesn’t have the required experience. So the Parliament “has launched an external procedure to be able to recruit him,” one official said. Chiochetti didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Another example is Lars Sørensen, Welle’s current deputy head of Cabinet, who is allegedly destined to be catapulted into the role of director for infrastructure and logistics. Critics argued that Sørensen does not have the required experience to qualify as an internal applicant. Sørensen didn’t reply to request for comment.
In other cases, the charge is that an internal candidate has been lined up for a job when a more qualified external candidate would be available. Welle’s own head of Cabinet, Christian Mangold, is allegedly poised to become head of the newly-created Directorate for Campaigns within the Parliament’s communication directorate general ahead of next year’s European election.
But because the job was advertised only internally it will preclude many potential external applicants with campaign experience. “There would be plenty of senior people outside the Parliament who would know how to lead a campaign,” said an official.
Mangold, who is already at director level, declined to comment.
The alleged upcoming appointments of Natacha Scriban-Cuvelier and Sabina Magnano to senior roles have raised objections on the grounds that they are the result of political preferment.
Scriban-Cuvelier is a civil servant who works as deputy secretary-general for the European People’s Party, the largest political group in the Parliament. Several officials said Welle wants her to head up the Directorate General for the Presidency, in charge of the Parliament’s plenary sessions. “How can you be impartial and independent when you have made almost all of your career in a political group?” asked another Parliament official.
Magnano, the current head of unit for the Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, is allegedly set to become the director of media at the Directorate General for Communication. Two officials said that Gianni Pittella, the former leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, recommended Magnano, who worked for the Socialists, for the job.
Scriban-Cuvelier and Magnano did not respond to a request for comment.
Welle declined to comment but a spokesperson for the Parliament said it is too soon to prejudge the outcome of the appointments as nothing has been decided yet.
“The procedure for appointing directors and director generals in the Parliament includes an evaluation of the lists of applicants by the Bureau, which then draws up a list of candidates to be invited for an interview with the advisory committee,” the spokesperson said. “This panel will then make its recommendation, which is submitted by the president of Parliament [Antonio Tajani] to the full 15-members Bureau, as it is the body responsible for the appointment.”
“Therefore any decision will still need several months to be taken,” the spokesperson said.
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