Von der Leyen accused of playing favourite over EU SMEs envoy nomination

Von der Leyen accused of playing favourite over EU SMEs envoy nomination | INFBusiness.com

The controversial appointment of German CDU MEP Markus Pieper as the new EU envoy for small and medium-sized enterprises has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

As reported in David Carretta’s newsletter – whose content was confirmed to Euractiv as “extremely well documented” by EU officials familiar with the matter – although relatively unknown to the public, Pieper wields considerable influence as the secretary of the CDU delegation to the European Parliament.

Pieper was elected in 2004 and gained prominence within the German Christian Democrats and the European People’s Party.

The decision to appoint Pieper was taken by the College of Commissioners on 31 January in a seemingly routine move, but the timing and manner of the appointment have raised eyebrows.

“This indicates an attempt to increase German influence within the European Commission,” French Renew MEP Christophe Grunler told Euractiv, adding that with this nomination, von der Leyen is “absolutely” playing political games ahead of the EU elections.

The appointment came just three weeks before the CDU announced its support for von der Leyen’s second term, leading to suspicions that it may have been aimed at securing CDU support for her re-election.

“It looks like a little arrangement between friends at the CDU,” Grunler commented.

Another source linked to Renew Europe also told Euractiv that the whole situation could be part of a wider strategy through which von der Leyen sought to consolidate her party’s support.

The source also said that in recent weeks and months, there has been a redistribution of the various roles in the Commission among individuals connected to the CDU, which belongs to the EPP group in the European Parliament.

In a draft manifesto by the Alde liberal party, which is part of Renew, first published by Euractiv last month, the EU liberals lashed out against what they described as an “EPP-driven Commission”.

Not the best candidate

Pieper got the job although he was not the top candidate recommended by independent selection committees or by Commissioner Thierry Breton.

Pieper did not provide any comment at the moment of the publication of this article.

The selection process for the EU SME Envoy began with a call for applications in September, followed by assessments by pre-selection and advisory committees and an assessment centre.

Czechia’s Martina Dlabajová and Sweden’s Anna Stellinger, who both scored higher than Pieper in the assessments by at least 30%, according to various sources, were shortlisted for the position, highlighting concerns about Pieper’s appointment.

“Mrs Dlabajová has chaired an intergroup on SMEs since 2019 and has focused her entire mandate on this issue,” Grunler said.

 “There is a lack of transparency here,” he said.

In addition to the question of qualifications, the other two leading candidates are women with nationalities from under-represented countries, which contrasts with von der Leyen’s pledge to promote women’s representation in top positions and geographical balance within the EU institutions.

“The business case for having more women in leadership is clear,” von der Leyen declared in 2022 while presenting a Directive on Gender Balance on Corporate Boards. “There are plenty of women qualified for top jobs: They should be able to get them,” she added.

Bypassing Breton

The decision to nominate Pieper was taken without Breton’s presence and without prior discussion among the Commissioners’ chiefs of staff, which seems to indicate a desire to bypass the French Commissioner, who had expressed his preference for the Czech candidate.

The Commission maintains that proper procedures were followed while Breton’s office, contacted by Euractiv, declined to comment.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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Von der Leyen accused of playing favourite over EU SMEs envoy nomination | INFBusiness.com

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