EU lawmakers urge von der Leyen to drop business envoy in cronyism row

By Thomson Reuters Apr 11, 2024 | 7:37 AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s parliament called on the bloc’s top executive, Ursula von der Leyen, on Thursday to rescind the appointment of a business envoy that critics have linked to cronyism.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, reiterated that it followed all the rules in picking Markus Pieper, a lawmaker from von der Leyen’s German centre-right party, as a special envoy for small- and medium-sized businesses.

The appointment has become a subject of fierce debate in Brussels ahead of elections to the European Parliament in June. Von der Leyen is seeking a second term as European Commission president as the candidate of the EU’s centre-right parties.

Von der Leyen’s opponents in other parties have pointed to media reports that the Commission rejected two other candidates who scored better than Pieper in the initial selection process for the special envoy post.

Pieper has said that he “successfully completed a very demanding (selection) process” and that the Commission had already answered questions about the matter, German broadcaster ARD reported.

On Thursday, members of the European Parliament approved a text calling on the Commission to “rectify the situation by rescinding the appointment and launching a truly transparent and open process for the selection of the EU SME Envoy”.

The text – submitted by a group of mainly Green and liberal lawmakers – passed with 382 votes in favour, 144 against and 80 abstentions.

Watchdog group Transparency International has also criticised the appointment, saying it “suggests that top Commission jobs are promised to those politically beneficial to the President over those who best demonstrate their suitability to the role”.

Asked at a press briefing on Thursday whether the Commission remained convinced Pieper was the right person for the job and if he would start next week as planned, Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer replied: “Yes and yes.”

The Commission said it would respond in due course to the Parliament.

(Reporting by Andrew Gray, Editing by Charlotte Van Campenhout and Devika Syamnath)