European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is embroiled in a row over favouritism, after appointing German MEP Markus Pieper as Envoy for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, a five-year post with a salary of nearly 17,000 euros a month.

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The choice was challenged by four commissioners – Spain’s Josep Borrell, France’s Thierry Breton, Luxembourg’s Nicolas Schmit and Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, who wrote a letter to the president asking to discuss the recruitment process.

Appointment challenged

Socialist, Liberal and Green MEPs also asked for the selection to be rescinded in a resolution on the European Commission’s 2023 budget.

“I think the selection process should be repeated, and this time they should stick to the criteria that they themselves defined,” German Green MEP Daniel Freund told Euronews. “They said it would be decided on merit, on gender balance, and if two candidates have the same qualification, it goes to one of those member states where there’s less representation.”

According to media reports, Pieper was deemed less qualified than two other candidates, including a liberal Czech MEP, Freund added. 

“I want a procedure where the best candidate actually gets the job,” Freund said, suggesting that the reason for the appointment may be political. Pieper is a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the same party as von der Leyen.

“There was a problem in North Rhine Westphalia, with too many male MEPs,” Freund said, with the CDU seeking gender balance in the German region. “It seems to have been advantageous for the CDU that Markus Pieper gets this job. Whether this played a role in the procedure, yes or no, I don’t know.”

European Commission’s defense

The European Commission has defended the appointment, saying the usual procedures were followed. 

“The process is very simple. It’s a proposal by the commissioner in charge of personnel, Johannes Hahn, in agreement with the president and after consultation of the portfolio commissioner, in this case Thierry Breton,” said Eric Mamer, spokesperson for the EU  executive.

The stages of the selection process will not be made public, the spokesperson said, but President von der Leyen “has full confidence that the process took place in full compliance with procedures.”

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