EU Policy. Commissioner mutiny grows as von der Leyen pushes through controversial hire

Markus Pieper's appointment as SME Envoy has drawn controversy
Markus Pieper's appointment as SME Envoy has drawn controversy Copyright Philippe BUISSIN/ European Union 2024 - Source : EP
Copyright Philippe BUISSIN/ European Union 2024 - Source : EP
By Jack Schickler
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Four senior lieutenants aren't happy on hearing that fellow CDU member Markus Pieper starts his taxpayer-funded duties next week


A rebellion by senior EU commissioners concerning a controversial hire made by President Ursula von der Leyen shows no sign of abating, as Markus Pieper prepares to start his lucrative post next week.

MEPs and activists have called for von der Leyen to rethink the appointment of Pieper, a member of her own German Christian Democrat party, who's now expected to take up duties in his €17,000-per-month job of Envoy for Small and Medium Sized Businesses next week.

They were joined by commissioners Josep Borrell, Thierry Breton, Paolo Gentiloni and Nicolas Schmit — who have raised concerns over transparency and collective decision-making, in a 27 March letter previously reported exclusively by Euronews.

The quartet appear unimpressed by an 8 April response to their letter from EU Human Resources Commissioner Johannes Hahn, seen by Euronews, which states that the decision to hire Pieper was "within the usual margin of discretion for such senior appointments".

"This was not the point we raised in our letter," said the four commissioners in a response also seen by Euronews, reiterating their request to discuss how to respond to European Parliament queries on the matter.

The commissioners' letter — which is, pointedly, addressed to von der Leyen rather than Hahn, and appears to have been sent on 8 April immediately after receiving Hahn's response — also says that "a broader discussion is warranted on the transparency and the collegiality of the process surrounding high-level appointments in the Commission."

Commissioners are worried von der Leyen, who is bidding for a second term in office, is hijacking the supposed collective responsibility of the EU executive's highest decision making body, given that she tabled the Pieper appointment for a day on which Borrell and Breton were set to be absent on official business.

Those concerned about von der Leyen's objectivity also cite her recently naming Sauli Niinistö, the former Finnish President who's also a fellow member of the European People's Party, to write a report on defence policy.

But Hahn said the Pieper appointment "is fully in line with the Commission’s rules and established practice … all procedural requirements were fully observed."

"The purpose of each stage is to ensure that the best qualified candidates pass to the next one; there is no ranking at the final stage based on the previous stages," Hahn added, addressing rumours that Pieper had been outperformed by two other female candidates before being interviewed by von der Leyen's own chief of staff.

Pieper "signed his employment contract on 31 March and he is expected to take up duties on 16 April 2024," Hahn said.

On 4 April, European Commission Chief Spokesperson Eric Mamer told reporters that his understanding was that no contract had yet been signed, but corrected his error the following day.

A European Parliamentary amendment calling for the appointment to be rescinded is scheduled to be debated on Wednesday, and MEPs appear unhappy with the rushing through of the apparent case of political favouritism.

"This does not look good at all," Daniel Freund (Germany/Greens) told Euronews in a statement, saying that the 16 April start date suggested von der Leyen was "pushing this through in expedited procedure."

"Jobs in the Commission have to be filled based on merit," Freund added. "If that wasn't the case here, the whole procedure has to be repeated."

One other candidate, MEP Martina Dlabajová (Czechia, Renew) has also raised a formal complaint with the Commission over the process, her office confirmed.

Asked if von der Leyen would hold the debate requested by the four Commissioners, a Commission spokesperson said it could be addressed under any other business, and confirmed the 16 April start date.

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