The European Commission on Tuesday defended the appointment of Martin Selmayr as its secretary-general after an EU watchdog said the move “stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law.”
Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas clashed repeatedly with reporters over the issue at the EU’s regular midday press briefing.
Following a five-month investigation, EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly found the Commission had committed four acts of “maladministration” in installing Selmayr, President Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff, as its most senior civil servant.
Schinas said the Commission did not agree with points of fact and analysis in the report and skirted round whether it accepted any of the criticism. The Commission will issue a formal response to the report later this month, he said.
However, he declared “the Commission provided unprecedented transparency and information” on Selmayr’s appointment.
Reporters questioned Schinas for 40 minutes on Selmayr, accountability and the Commission’s relationship with journalists. Schinas responded by defending the spokesperson’s service and at times snapping at reporters.
“The only way to measure trust is to look at Eurobarometer,” Schinas said, referring to the EU’s regular public opinion survey in response to a question on the ombudsman’s finding that Selmayr’s appointment undermined public trust.
“Trust in the EU has actually increased,” he added, drawing laughter from reporters.
In her report, O’Reilly said Commission spokespeople were “defensive, evasive and at times combative.” Asked about this conclusion and about his own approach, Schinas replied that he is “explicative” — ignoring a reporter who pointed out that no such word exists in English.
The Commission has also faced criticism from the European Parliament over Selmayr’s appointment. French Socialists in the Parliament said the ombudsman’s report showed Juncker, a member of the center-right European People’s Party, had violated European rules to promote Selmayr.
“He is responsible in part for the lack of trust afflicting Europe, which is reflected particularly in the rise of the far right,” the Socialist delegation said in a statement.