Klaus Welle, the powerful head of the European Parliament’s administrative wing, will leave his job by year’s end, according to five officials.
Welle, who has served as the Parliament’s secretary-general since 2009, announced his departure in a letter sent this week to senior Parliament members.
“We are very sad that Klaus Welle has taken the personal decision to leave at the end of the year,” Manfred Weber, president of Welle’s European People’s Party (EPP) and chair of its Parliament group, told POLITICO, confirming the news.
Welle, 58, spent his 13 years in office enhancing the secretary-general’s role, and using his clout to expand the Parliament’s authority in the ever-evolving power struggle between the European Union’s political institutions.
Welle held considerable behind-the-scenes sway on everything from the Parliament’s agenda to its massive real estate portfolio to key personnel decisions. He became influential in all of those areas — and drew criticism from his opponents on each of them.
But Welle also had his adherents and will leave behind notable achievements. He helped establish the Parliament’s remote operations during the COVID crisis, expanded the institution’s powers and equipped MEPs with more resources to properly challenge the European Commission, even erecting an in-house think tank.
His extensive rein will also make him one of the longest-serving secretaries-general in Parliament history.
“He always had a clear idea of the institutional role of the European Parliament and strengthened it,” said Weber. “His leadership will be greatly missed.”
As a former secretary-general of the EPP, Welle also helped turn the EPP into a pan-European political force.
Welle’s departure will inevitably spark a political fight over his succession.
The EPP holds the most seats in Parliament but has lately seen its power wane across Europe. Other parties and parliamentary groups, especially the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), have also long wanted to oust him. The S&D group even tried — unsuccessfully — to make his departure a condition for their support of the EPP’s Roberta Metsola as Parliament president.
The move marked the first time in recent history that the secretary-general’s office was thrown into the political mix of the regular parliamentary personnel shifts that occur halfway through a five-year term.
Welle did not respond to a request for comment.
While the S&D might now sense a chance to place one of their own in the influential post, the EPP is not giving up its claim.
One possible replacement is Welle’s deputy Markus Winkler, the S&D’s most senior Parliament official. Like Welle, Winkler also holds a German passport — another important dimension in EU politics — but it’s unclear if that will help or hurt his chances.
Other names floated in recent months include Jaume Duch Guillot, the Parliament’s communications director, who is from Spain and said to be close to the conservatives.
Weber told POLITICO he intends to nominate a replacement for Welle with the entire Parliament in mind.
“As the biggest political group, we will nominate a successor who is at the service of all members and groups, with the ambition and integrity of the whole institution in mind,” Weber said, announcing he would look for broad support for any candidate. Although the EPP is the biggest group, it can be outvoted if there’s an agreement among other bigger forces.
“The administration must be based on an inclusive approach,” he added. “All groups must be involved and we as EPP will continue this approach.”