An official complaint has been launched against the European Parliament over a controversial deal to appoint its new secretary general, the institution's top civil servant.
Transparency International EU and The Good Lobby, two NGOs focused on institutional corruption and accountability, said they would file the complaint before the European Ombudsman, who has the mandate to investigate cases of maladministration across the EU institutions.
The objection was raised a day after the Parliament made official the appointment of Alessandro Chiocchetti as the new secretary general.
Chiocchetti will directly oversee the Parliament's €2-billion annual budget and staff of 8,000. He will take up the senior position on 1 January, succeeding the veteran Klaus Welle, who has held the job since March 2009.
Chiocchetti currently serves as head of cabinet for European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
The controversy centres on the procedure in which he was selected and the alleged political horse-trading that made it possible.
The NGOs argue that Chiocchetti's appointment is the result of an "unacceptable" and "sordid" backroom deal between the European People's Party (EPP), to which Metsola belongs, and Renew Europe and The Left.
Politico Europe and Liberation had previously reported that Renew Europe and The Left would secure other high-level positions in the Parliament's administration in exchange for supporting Chiocchetti.
A candidate from The Left is poised to lead a totally new directorate general about "parliamentary democracy partnerships," the media reports said.
The NGOs also criticised Chiocchetti's comparable lack of credentials. He competed against three experienced candidates – Jaume Duch, Leena Linnus and Agnieszka Walter-Drop – all of whom already lead a directorate-general in the Parliament.
"Backroom deals such as the nomination of the manifestly least qualified candidate to lead the European Parliament's administration urgently require greater public and political accountability of European political parties and leaders," said Professor Alberto Alemanno, founder of The Good Lobby.
Metsola defends 'fair and equal' process
The secretary general's selection skewed traditional job interviews.
Instead, the Parliament's bureau – made up of Metsola and 14 vice-presidents – gave each of the four candidates an opportunity to present their "vision" for the institution and respond to a series of questions.
"The result was very clear, with only one vote against and three abstentions," said Metsola on Tuesday, when asked about the controversial deal. "I did not take a vote."
Metsola defended the selection as "fair and equal" and said the job vacancy had been made public.
"It was the most open process in the history of the institution," she said. "For the first time ever, there was more than one candidate."
But the president's explanation failed to quell the anger of the NGOs, who nevertheless proceeded to launch the complaint before the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly.
The Ombudsman's office has not yet received the complaint, a spokesperson told Euronews.
Michiel van Hulten, director of Transparency International EU, described Chiocchetti's appointment as a "prima facie case of maladministration."
"The way this package of top jobs was adopted in the dead of night without any form of internal or public scrutiny is completely unacceptable," van Hulten said in a press release.
"EU citizens expect the EU institutions to be transparent and accountable, instead of stitching up sordid backroom deals to further the personal and political agendas of senior officials, MEPs and party groups."
The NGOs also accused the Parliament of double standards: back in 2018, lawmakers denounced the rush and obscure procedure that led Martin Selmayr, head of cabinet of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, to be named as the Commission's secretary-general.
MEPs called the appointment a "coup-like action which stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law" and asked for Selmayr's resignation.
The European Ombudsman later launched a probe into the case and found four instances of maladministration by the Commission.
Selmayr left the role when Ursula von der Leyen replaced Juncker and took a new job as director of the European Commission's representation office in Austria.