Daniel Gueguen

When you are a senior civil servant or politician, can you apply for any position? Or does each post demand specific qualities?

Recent news provides us with several striking cases.

The best case: Martin Schulz

After being elected for a second two-and-a-half year mandate as European Parliament President, Mr Schulz ran for Commission President as the Spitzenkandidat for the S&D. Defeated, he returned to his parliamentary duties and lobbied actively to have his term extended beyond 5 years, contrary to all EP practice in this regard. Having failed at this as well, Mr Schulz turned up on the German stage as President of the SPD and candidate for Chancellor. We know what happened next: a discredited Martin Schulz is now a mere German MP.

Leaving aside strategy and morality, can you really claim to be the right person for a series of posts that demand different skills? Some are diplomatic, others are more operational; some are national, others international.

Jean-Claude Juncker: a casting mistake par excellence

Having been chosen as Spitzenkandidat for the EPP, Mr Juncker had ambitions to be President of the European Council – a post he was probably better qualified for – but ended up as President of the European Commission – a post he did not want and was not suited for.

5-yearly civil service rotations: not a very good idea

Can you be head of the cosmetics unit one day and head of space policy the next? These big gaps between positions that are technically poles apart are helping to transform senior Commission figures into managers, of human resources and budgets. It results in a drift in expertise from the higher to the lower levels of the hierarchy – the desk officers – making the Commission more bureaucratic, as opposed to the organ of impetus and initiative the Treaties originally intended it to be.

Worse still, this poor rule includes exceptions that discredit it even more. Having been appointed Director General of DG TRADE in 2011, why has Jean-Luc Demarty just been given a new post when he has already reached retirement age? Is it because of Mercosur? Or is it because every file managed by the Commission is handled in an ad hoc case-by-case manner, however it likes?

Mr Selmayr: the spoils system upside down

I do not know Martin Selmayr and have never had any dealings with him. But this surprising mutation of President Juncker’s Head of Cabinet into Commission Secretary-General is surely another demonstration of what I am talking about. Are the two positions of the same nature, requiring the same qualities? Surely not.

But it gets worse. While in the American tradition you regularly see 4,000 senior civil servants vacate their jobs during the changeover from one President to another (the ‘spoils system’), here we have a President coming to the end of his mandate imposing upon his successor a new holder of a very significant and strategic office, the Secretary-General of the Commission. The world has truly been turned upside down.

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