Exclusive: Von der Leyen envoy row intensifies as NGOs call for cronyism probe


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The European Commission should reverse its controversial decision to appoint Markus Pieper as envoy for small and medium-sized business (SMEs), a grouping of non-governmental organisations said in a letter sent today (5 April).

The letter adds to pressure on Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the hire, after Euronews exclusively revealed MEPs and her own Commission colleagues questioning the decision to hand a €17,000-per-month taxpayer-funded job to a member of her German political party, the CDU.

“Pieper’s political affiliation and nationality suggest the President has favoured her political ally for one of the Commission’s senior civil service posts,” said the letter, from a grouping of campaigners led by Transparency International EU.

“There is no room for potential conflicts of interest in the recruitment of Commission officials,” said the letter, also signed by Friends of the Earth Europe, The Good Lobby and Corporate Europe Observatory, who together also requested “that an investigation into potential breaches of the Commissioner’s Code of Conduct during this recruitment process be immediately launched.”

The letter cites media reports that Pieper had scored lower than other candidates in recruitment tests, and questions whether the EU’s founding treaty and Charter of Fundamental Rights were breached.

The Commission has strenuously denied any claims of foul play, as von der Leyen campaigns for a second term in office – an appointment that would likely require support from multiple other political parties.

“The Commission has full confidence in the fact that the procedures were followed and that the person who was ultimately selected was selected based on his performance during the entirety of the selection process,” Eric Mamer, the Commission’s chief spokesperson, told reporters on Thursday (4 April).

“There have been no negative comments following that decision” to appoint Pieper, which was formally made in January, Mamer said, adding that Pieper had still not signed a contract or agreed a start date. 

But that stands in contrast to significant criticism from MEPs and von der Leyen’s own senior lieutenants, and confusion over what procedure applies.

Thierry Breton, Paolo Gentiloni, Josep Borrell and Nicolas Schmit – Commissioners from France, Italy, Spain and Luxembourg – have asked for the issue to be reviewed soon by the Commission’s highest decision-making body, the College.

Lawmakers from the European Parliament’s Green, Liberal and Socialist groupings are also preparing to formally ask von der Leyen to rescind the appointment, when discussing the Commission’s budget on 10 April.

Official guidance says senior Commission appointments should be proposed in agreement with portfolio Commissioners – though in this case Breton clearly has reservations.

A Commission spokesperson told Euronews that, irrespective of the published guidance, it was “established practice” to submit lead candidates for senior jobs merely after consulting the relevant Commissioner, implying Breton wouldn’t need to have consented.

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