The opening of the plenary session of the EP in Strasbourg today will be crucial for German Socialist President (Speaker) of the European Parliament Martin Schulz.
It would seem that there are no limits to his megalomaniacal ambitions. Brussels insiders are aghast at the audacious attempts by Schulz to parachute his political advisers into key positions in the, supposedly apolitical, European Parliament administration before his two-and-a-half-year mandate comes to an end this June. Former EP Presidents have usually managed to get promotions agreed for one or two of their top advisers, but the scale of the Schulz power grab is unprecedented.
If all goes according to his brazen plan, the Parliament’s appointing authority for senior positions (the Bureau) will today, at its final meeting before the European elections, confirm the appointments of no less than six of Schulz’s political 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 goverments).
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).
Alexander Stutzmann as a Director in the EP Directorate General for External Policies in charge of Democracy and Human Rights Promotion.
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 (EEAS). 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.
Such a blatant attempt at nepotism and cronyism has not gone unnoticed inside the EP. Ten days ago the Parliament adopted a series of amendments in the course of the annual 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.
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 from his official functions for the duration of the election campaign; 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 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 and the socialist cause, Mr Engels, who is not an EP official but yet another 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 the humourless 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 supposed to chair impartially, but more determined to save his own bacon, responded by postponing the final vote on the budget discharge until Wednesday 16 April – in other words, until after the EP Bureau of today when Schulz plans to ram through the appointments of six of his political advisers to EP top management jobs.
Expect a showdown in Strasbourg this week between the European Parliament and its President. If Schulz wins, there will be no stopping him. If he can manage this level of cronyism and party-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!