Italy’s elections on Sunday refocused global attention on the challenges facing the European Union, as populist, euroskeptic parties combined to win a majority of votes. But a less-noticed scandal over a bureaucratic appointment in Brussels might offer a better explanation of just what is driving the voter backlash against the union.
So far the scandal has barely registered a blip on the radar for anyone besides close EU-watchers, but it is in many ways emblematic of everything Brussels’ critics say is wrong with the bloc. It revolves around Martin Selmayr, the former chief of staff to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who was promoted in late February to serve as secretary-general of the commission. That would hardly register as news out of Brussels even on a slow day. But a steady drip of revelations and leaks since then has made it increasingly clear that the EU subverted its own strict rules regarding hiring and promotions in order to parachute Selmayr into the post.
To begin with, in order to ensure that Selmayr was technically eligible for the job, he was first appointed vice-secretary-general—the required minimum rank in the EU’s civil service hierarchy for any secretary-general candidate—in a cloak-and-dagger affair clearly meant to fulfill the letter but not the spirit of EU regulations. Once that box was ticked, Selmayr was almost instantly appointed to the secretary-general position, which became available only after the surprise resignation of the previous office-holder and was not publicly announced or opened to other candidates.