European Union: Martin Schulz’s Power Grab
It would seem that there are no limits to the ambitions of the German Socialist President (Speaker) of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, who wants to be the European Commission’s next President.
Whether his bid will be successful or not depends to a large extent of the outcome of European elections end of May. Mr.Schulz, who has hopes that after the elections his Socialist group might become the strongest in numbers (not because of a rise in popularity, but because the conservative “European People’s Party” (EPP) are expected to lose a lot of their seats to more right-wing groups), has for years manoeuvred to establish a principle according which each group should present a front-running candidate, who would then become the next Commission President. Needless to say, he himself is the Socialists’ front runner: so if the Socialists win, he will pretend he has an entitlement to get the top job. In actual fact, he speculates on the electoral success of the far right at the expense of EPP.
There are, however, two problems for Mr. Schulz. One is that the EU treaty actually does not foresee the popular election of the Commission President. Under the Treaty of Lisbon the European Council, when proposing a candidate, has to take into account the results of the latest European elections and, furthermore, the Parliament elects, rather than simply approves, the Council’s proposed candidate. But the selection of the candidate is still the Council’s prerogative, and no candidate will be proposed who is not endorsed by his own government. Thus, it is ultimately Angela Merkel who will decide whether she wants Schulz to be Germany’s man in the next Commission.
The second problem is that Schulz, while being a successful apparatchik inside the European Parliament, is less of a sympathy-bearer outside the hermetic world of the EU’s institutions. It is hardly likely that his candidacy will draw many extra votes for the Socialists outside Mr. Schulz’s own circumscription in North-Rhine Westphalia. In other parts of Germany (such as Bavaria), and even more in German-speaking Austria, Mr. Schulz is not thought of as being an appealing candidate, but rather as someone whom one should not put on any campaign posters if one doesn’t want to drive away potential voters. And outside the German-speaking countries, it is even less likely that voters will be enthusiastic about a German Commission President, when in fact in Southern Europe the main concern of many voters is to get rid of German austerity policies.
But while he is still President of the European Parliament, Mr. Schulz is sparing no efforts to strengthen his power base. Brussels insiders are aghast at his attempts to place his people in key positions in the Parliament administration before his two-and-a-half-year mandate comes to an end this June. Former Presidents have usually managed to get promotions for one or two of their top advisers, but the scale of the Schulz power grab is unprecedented.
If all goes according to his plan, the Parliament’s appointing authority for senior positions (the Bureau) will on 14 April, at its final meeting before the European elections, confirm the appointments of no less than six of Schulz’s advisers to be either Directors General (the top layer of EU management) or Directors (the next layer down).
The expected appointments are:
Markus Winkler as Director General for the Presidency (which will give him control over such key functions as the running of EP Plenary Sessions, Protocol, and the legal-linguistic finalising of all EU legislative texts).
Herwig Kaiser as Director General for Personnel (which will give him control over all general recruitment procedures, open competitions for the EP civil service; and make him the appointing authority for every one of the several thousand Assistant grade posts on the EP staff).
Maria-Jose Martinez Iglesias as a Director in the EP Legal Service (responsible for giving legal advice on all legislative files before EP parliamentary committees).
Monika Strasser as Director for EP Budget Affairs (which will put her in charge of the secretariats for the powerful Committee for Budgets and the Committee for Budget Control, key to shaping Parliament’s position on the annual EU budget, for which the Parliament shares power with the 28 national governments).
Lorenzo Mannelli as a Director in the EP Directorate General for Finances (which will give him responsibility for a large part of the EP’s internal administrative budget, including Members’ salaries, expenses and allowances).
Alexandre Stutzmann as a Director in the EP Directorate General for External Policies in charge of Democracy and Human Rights Promotion.
With these appointments, all of them through administrative procedures, one is tempted to wonder why the EU still needs parliamentary elections…
Keeping it in the family
The last of these top appointments is particularly interesting because Mr Stutzmann just happens to be “married” to the Head of Secretariat for the EP’s Foreign Affairs Committee, a certain Silvio Gonzato. However, in a deal concocted between President Schulz and his socialist comrade Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU’s “Foreign Minister”, Mr Gonzato is due to be appointed Director for Human Rights in the European External Action Service. If all these appointments go ahead, it will mean Messrs Stutzmann and Gonzato will between them manage the Human Rights departments of the EP and the EEAS.
They will be a very happy couple indeed. One can easily imagine what the EU’s policy on human rights will look like, if it is monopolized by this type of “experts”. Maybe we will soon see the diplomats of all EU countries uneasily trodding along with all “gay-pride” parades world wide, as US ambassadors are already now obliged to do under the Obama administration…
Such a blatant attempt at nepotism and cronyism has not gone unnoticed inside the EP. Last week the Parliament adopted a series of amendments in the course of the budget discharge procedure in which attention has been drawn to these abuses of power, and which even take the unprecedented step of naming individuals in parliamentary amendments. A majority of 399 MEPs from different political groups called on Schulz to separate the office of – bipartisan – President of the Parliament from his campaign activities. In addition, the plenary requested information on how Schulz kept separate his official duties as parliament president from his campaign activities.
One of the seven political groups in the EP – the Greens – were the first to speak out about these outrages and already a month ago called on Mr Schulz to step aside; in particular they underlined the conflict of interest between Schulz’s role as EP President (supposed to be a neutral role above party politics) while at the same time being the official candidate of the Party of European Socialists to be the next President of the European Commission (the EU executive branch).
The Greens specifically cited the use by Schulz of EP resources for political campaigning. The most egregious example of this was when Schulz ‘kidnapped’ the 80,000 Twitter followers that had been built up over two years with the use of EP staff and resources, and reassigned them to his Socialist Party campaign profile.
Less obvious is the fact that Mr Schulz has a total of 10 full-time staff on the EP payroll, who officially serve as the press office of the EP President, but who in fact are running his media campaign. This is a bigger press office by far than those of any of his predecessors, none of whom in any case ran campaigns to be Commission President.
The Schulz Press Team also includes another precedent, a full time press officer in Schulz’s home country, in this case a certain Mr Markus Engels based at the EP Information Office in Berlin for the past two years. For his loyal service to Schulz, Mr Engels, who is not an EP official but a long-time party hack, is soon to be rewarded with a specially-created post as “Head of Media Intelligence” at the EP’s Directorate General for Communications.
The irony of seeking to foist a man, known jokingly by journalists as “Marx ‘n Engels”, onto the EP in a post with the Orwellian title of ‘Head of Media Intelligence’ is clearly lost on Schulz. But his totalitarian tendencies at controlling information do not stop there. In the same EP budget discharge vote on 3 April, a large majority of MEPs voted for an amendment simply seeking clarification from President Schulz regarding the various allegations of abuse of power. But even this was too much for Comrade Martin, so he used a procedural trick to delete from the text the offending paragraphs.
MEPs, furious at the overturning of a democratic vote in the chamber by a President determined to save his own bacon, responded by postponing the final vote on the budget discharge until 15 April – in other words after the EP Bureau of 14 April when Schulz plans to ram through the appointments of six of his advisers to EP top management jobs.
Expect a showdown in Strasbourg between the European Parliament and its President. If Schulz wins, there will be no stopping him. If he can manage this level of politicisation of the EP administration in a mere two years, imagine the prospect of an all-powerful Schulz presidency of the European Commission for up to 10 years.
The best advice for all European citizens who do not want the EU to be run in this way is: don’t cast your vote for the Socialists in the upcoming EU elections.