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In a series of intertwined behind-the-scenes deals, three of the European Parliament’s political groups are pushing through a power-sharing deal that has left opponents accusing Parliament’s leadership of cronyism and seeking to postpone any final decision.
The controversy centers on the saga over who will replace Secretary General Klaus Welle, the influential senior parliamentary official who will step down at the end of the year – and frustration that it could be Alessandro Chiocchetti, a controversial candidate who would quickly rise in Parliament. scale if promoted.
Welle spent 13 years transforming his position into a center of power that influenced everything from Parliament’s agenda to who held his highest positions. And his impending departure has set off jockeys among political groups in Parliament – not just over Welle’s replacement but over other leadership positions to be handed out in the process.
He has also left the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), Parliament’s largest group, trying to figure out how it can keep Welle’s powerful job even as his political influence wanes in parts of Europe – and , for the moment, it is supporting Chiocchetti.
Now some sort of three-way deal is being hammered out, according to three people who were in the room when the arrangement began to unfold and three others who were briefed on the talks.
The agreement – concluded between the EPP, the liberal Renew Europe and The Left – has several parts.
Most notably, it will pave the way for Chiocchetti to become general secretary, despite objections from political groups and parliament administration officials, unhappy with what they see as bald patronage and concerns over level of experience. of Chiocchetti for the post. To get their man installed, the EPP agreed to create a new political department within the European Parliament that La Gauche would head. In the meantime, he also weakened the criteria for the position of general secretary to ensure Chiocchetti’s qualification.
Chiocchetti’s rise has not been finalized, however, and many left-wing politicians are trying to erect eleventh-hour roadblocks.
“It would be unfortunate if the impressions of a deal reached discouraged qualified candidates,” said Greens vice-president Heidi Hautala, who was in the room when the deal was discussed on Monday and tried to block both the creation of the new political department as well as the decision to dilute the requirements of the general secretary.
A deal materializes
The arrangement was advanced on Monday evening at a meeting of the all-powerful Bureau of Parliament, which makes decisions on all administrative, personnel and organizational matters.
At the meeting, the participants – which included members of the Bureau such as Parliament President Roberta Metsola and the vice-presidents of the political groups – approved a new “directorate general”.
The new office will be officially titled the Parliamentary Democracy Partnerships Branch, but details are scarce on what exactly it will do or how much it will cost.
One official said the unit was “just making the pie bigger” so the left could get its share – and a leadership role that comes with a monthly salary of around €20,000. Others pointed out that it could duplicate the work of the Directorate General for External Policies.
The new department will give parliament 13 directorates general, or DGs, far more than, say, the German Bundestag, which has five – fueling accusations that political groups are bloating the administration to hand out jobs. Indeed, the names of the DGs convey the sense of redundancy: there is a DG for Logistics and Interpretation for Conferences, a separate DG for Translation and yet another DG for Infrastructure and Logistics. Each of these DGs has four directorates with politically appointed and well paid directors who report to the directors general.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the political groups agreed to officially launch the competition for the post of Secretary General. Notably, they voted to lower the threshold for applicants, opening up the position to those at EU management grade AD 15 or higher. The move is a break from recent practice, which saw only those at the highest level, AD 16, eligible for the job.
Several leaders present at the meeting objected to the move, both because it seemed designed to allow Chiocchetti to run for the top job, and also because it smacked of breaking the rules. Chiocchetti, currently Metsola’s chief of staff, was only promoted to AD 15 level in May.
The leaders of the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Greens voted against changing the criteria for candidacy. But a coalition of EPP, Renew and the left rejected them.
“The names that will be proposed for this position must be qualified, have the right qualifications and training, and the right personality traits required,” said S&D leader Iratxe García Pérez, also stressing the need for a gender, geography and political balance.
“The Greens insist that all the rules are followed when appointing the new General Secretary,” said Green MEP Daniel Freund. “We will also insist that someone who is genuinely qualified for this position be appointed.”
“In my opinion,” he added, “the decision for Chiocchetti is not final.”
Now there is pressure from the Greens and S&D to delay the final decision. Welle, after all, won’t be leaving his post until the end of the year.
“There is time until December,” Pérez said. “So we don’t think there’s a need for us to go in there urgently.”
The Chiocchetti conversation echoes another secretary-general, Martin Selmayr, who held the job at the European Commission from 2018 to 2019. Selmayr faced similar charges of breaking the rules when he got the job.
“This two-step procedure they have in mind – first the promotion of the chief of staff to a higher grade, then a rapid appointment to the position of general secretary – contributes to the fact that it seems to be the case at the time with Selmayr,” another official said. .
Chiocchetti did not respond to a request for comment.
Some lawmakers and administration officials are also skeptical of Chiocchetti’s past, not just his ability to go from once heading an office of about 45 people as director of legislative coordination to the Directorate-General for Internal Policies, in charge of Parliament’s massive administration, which has more than 8,000 people.
An ally of Welle and former Speaker of Parliament Antonio Tajani, Chiocchetti was previously the assistant of Marcello Dell’Utri, the Italian politician and lieutenant of Silvio Berlusconi convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for his links with the sicilian mafia. Chiocchetti has not been accused of corruption or Mafia links, but his connection to Berlusconi allies has been a source of controversy in the European Parliament.
Others simply denounce the politicization of the EU civil service. The head of Renew, Stéphane Séjourné, stressed that his group was not part of the “co-management” arrangements concluded within the Bureau and deplored the “politicization of the administration”.
“I think civil servants should serve the institutions regardless of the political parties in place,” he said. “But of course that’s not how things work here.”
So while Chiocchetti’s name has already been floated, the backlash could mean the Greens, Renew and The Left – who are to back the deal – could ultimately balk.
“It’s not done at all,” said an official involved in the talks. “While the position is likely to go to the EPP, the group will need to find a less toxic candidate.”