Exclusive: Lawmakers to call for head of von der Leyen SME envoy

Exclusive: Lawmakers to call for head of von der Leyen SME envoy

MEPs from multiple major political parties will call for the European Commission to rethink a controversial official hire next week, accusing its president Ursula von der Leyen of political favouritism, sources have told Euronews.

Lawmakers want the appointment of Markus Pieper as Commission envoy for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to be rescinded when they debate the commission’s budget next week, according to a draft amendment seen by Euronews.

The amendment “notes with concern that the successful candidate is an outgoing MEP from President von der Leyen’s own German political party”, and “calls on the Commission to rectify the situation by rescinding the appointment” and reopening the process.

Three sources familiar with the talks have confirmed it’s supported by lawmakers from the Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe and Green groupings – the three largest parties in the parliament after von der Leyen’s own European People’s Party.

The measure needs to gather 36 signatures to be tabled during a 11 April debate on the budget discharge procedure – and proponents are “quite confident” they’ll succeed in doing so, according to one source.

The move would represent an upset for von der Leyen – who is seeking appointment for a second term as Commission president, and will likely need support from those other major political groups to be confirmed.

The Commission's SME Envoy is intended to liaise with small-business lobbyists and ensure their views are accounted for in policymaking. Pieper was appointed to the role a few weeks ago, giving him temporary official status at a grade with a base salary of around €17,000 per month.

Other candidates were reportedly MEP Martina Dlabajová (Czechia, Renew Europe) and Anna Stellinger of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.

MEPs asked a priority question of the Commission five weeks ago, after media reports surfaced that Pieper had been hired despite scoring lowest during the recruitment process – but lawmaker Daniel Freund (Germany/Greens) today (3 April) posted on social media that he’s still waiting for a response.

Lawmakers’ views of irregularities and favouritism have been shared by transparency campaigners.

“The Commission have disregarded their own recruitment principles to install a political ally of President von der Leyen’s into a highly lucrative civil service position,” Nick Aiossa, Director of Transparency International EU, told Euronews in a statement. “The Commission needs to urgently address concerns expressed by MEPs and civil society over the dubious appointment.”

A spokesperson for the Commission said he would not comment on individual procedures, but that the final decision was taken by Commissioners acting “in a collegiate manner."

“The selection and appointment of the EU SME Envoy was conducted in full compliance with the Commission’s procedures for the selection and appointment of senior officials,” the spokesperson said.

Pieper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UPDATE (3 April, 6:12 CET): adds comment from Commission spokesperson.