A Belgian push to help EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders get the top job at the Council of Europe could land him in hot water.
Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib has instructed Belgian diplomats to help Reynders become the next secretary-general of the Council of Europe, the international human rights organization. Reynders is up against former Swiss President Alain Berset and Estonia’s former Culture Minister Indrek Saar in the election.
However, Reynders’ boss Ursula von der Leyen has set out rules telling commissioners to make a clear distinction between their activities on the campaign trail and work for the Commission.
In Lahbib’s instruction, seen by POLITICO and first reported by Belgian weekly Knack, Belgian diplomats are told to do everything they can to push Reynders’ candidacy before January 25, when the candidacies will be examined by senior College of Europe staffers.
Officially the Belgian European Commissioner is not yet campaigning for the job.
Reynders won’t take a leave of absence from his position as justice commissioner until his candidacy becomes official. In March, candidates will be interviewed and a final list of candidates will be given to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The election is planned for June.
As reported by POLITICO, the EU’s new campaign rules state that candidates for other roles “must carefully consider to which extent their participation in the campaign could be reasonably perceived as leading to a situation where their personal interest as candidate may influence the independent performance of their duties.”
“It’s classic Reynders: walking a very fine ethical line,” said one Belgian diplomat.
The European Commission did not reply to a request for comment. Reynders’ team declined to comment and directed POLITICO to the Commission’s spokespersons service.