The arrogance of power

25 March 2018

The arrogance of power

This Tuesday, 27th March, my entire day at the European Parliament will be taken up by discussions of scandals. In the morning, it's the Hungarian government's fraud; in the afternoon, the Commission's policy on integrity, specifically the appointment of Martin Selmayr as Commission Secretary-General. Of course there is a difference between the corrupt behaviour of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, suspected of corruption and of the evasion of EU public procurement rules, and that of Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Both are doing a fine job for their chums, because although he may have followed all the regulations, it's still astonishing that last week Juncker threatened to resign if his European People's Party (EPP, a centre-right group and the biggest in the EP) colleagues failed to support Selmayr's appointment. I would say that both Juncker and Orban are suffering from the arrogance of power.

The European Parliament has often commented on the Hungarian government's practices, particularly when it comes to lack of respect for human rights. On Tuesday, however, we'll be looking principally at corruption in the country. Since 2008 Hungary has fallen ever further down Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, standing now at 66 in the table, just above Belarus. The Hungarian government is happy to rake in EU funds, but most of this money ends up in the pockets of their political friends. OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud bureau, has noted violation after violation, but hardly anything has been done by Hungary in response. Orban clearly feels so powerful that he can accept money without giving any account of how it has been used. This should not remain unpunished and should whatever else lead to suspension of any further payments to the country.

Unfortunately Juncker is also troubled by megalomania. Today I received a thick package containing replies to the many questions we had put to him on the appointment of his former Chef de Cabinet (the head of his personal staff, and one of his political friends) Martin Selmayr's elevation to Secretary General (the head of the entire Commission staff). I still have to check the precise details, but the kernel of his defence is that he followed all of the rules and is angry at all of this criticism from journalists, politicians and members of the public. How dare we call his integrity into question? At the gathering of his EPP friends which preceded the European Council, Juncker went so far as to threaten to resign should such criticism persist.

Tuesday afternoon I will have the chance to interrogate Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger on this matter, and there too I will make it absolutely clear that if Juncker has drifted so far away from knowing what goes on in our society, if he is afflicted by the arrogance of power, he can pack away his gold braid and follow Selmayr out of the door.

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