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Martin Selmayr – the EU’s puppet master secures his future

Jennifer Jacquemart/European Commission

Jean-Claude Juncker's most senior henchman, Martin Selmayr, has secured his post-Juncker future as the head of the EU Commission's civil service. This is not promotion, only continuity: he has long been the EU Commission's most powerful figure, as well as the link to German policymakers and the real puppet-master of the Brexit talks.

A rare spotlight fell on Martin Selmayr this week due to his appointment as the next chief of the EU Commission's civil service. A position he takes up on 1 March.

His selection by the 28 EU Commissioners, on Juncker's suggestion, was no great surprise.

As the head of Juncker's staff, Selmayr already controls the president's office and even presidential dialogue with those commissioners.

But the German lawyer's real power comes from his links to Merkel's cabinet and friendship with members of the EU-federalist elite who helped him gain his current position.

It was essential for Selmayr and for his network to guarantee his controlling hand after his boss Juncker steps aside next year.

Who is Selmayr and how exactly did he become so powerful?

Rewind to 2013, Juncker found himself completely dependent on this German technocrat.

Selmayr secured Juncker's nomination as EU president with a lightning tour of German TV stations that meant the Luxembourger was the only serious candidate from the powerful centre-right EPP group.

It was a deft manoeuvre that outfoxed Merkel. Most of her party now supported Juncker and she was obliged to do the same.

Four years on, Juncker has become increasingly more reliant on Selmayr who has leveraged his power.

He now runs the EU Commission president's office and cabinet, handles his correspondence with commissioners and world leaders, proposes strategy and writes his speeches.

EU Commissioners rarely risk complaining about Selmayr's tactics, but one commissioner resigned in fury in 2016 pointing to Selmayr's interfering in her policy area.

Selmayr usual tactic after writing Juncker's policy is to cite the president's name in order to gain compliance.

Considering his power, it's amazing how rarely we hear about Martin Selmayr.

On the few occasions that he's surfaced, the world has been treated to an angry intervention that scorns those who dare to oppose his grand plan.

These gaffes have been picked up by a joyous British media which revels in calling him the 'Monster' – a nickname created by Juncker himself. Even one of these angry outbursts would have seen a more junior figure removed from office, but Selmayr continues unabashed after no less than 10 publicity gaffes (listed below).

One of the reasons for his unchallenged position is his alliance with the Union of European Federalists (UEF), particularly its long-term leading figure and German MEP Elmar Brok.

Brok was the person who first ushered Selmayr into prominent positions at the commission owing to Selmayr's EU federalist views. When the Barroso commission was ending, Brok positioned Selmayr as Juncker's campaign director, even doing so before even consulting Selmayr.

The EU federalists' influence over the EU presidency was then complete. They had anointed their candidate, arranged the appointment of his 'handler' and begun the campaign to ensure their candidate was picked.

Selmayr's backing by the UEF still continues to this day in the form of policy and strategy. When the UEF produces strategy, it is only a matter of time before they are picked up and enacted by the EU Commission.

Although Barnier is a part of that same clique of EU-federalists, another more valuable connection for Selmayr is the former head of the UEF in Germany, Peter Altmaier.

Altmaier is no less than Angela Merkel's chief of staff and until the German elections was a German government minister.

Selmayr's friendship with Altmaier goes back more than 20 years when they were members of the UEF's German branch 'Europa Union'. The friendship places Selmayr as the lynchpin to Merkel-Juncker axis.

Merkel will return to the fray of EU politics after her coalition talks are completed, but her influence will be on Selmayr's terms.

No-one should be in any doubt about Selmayr's intention to use any means at his disposal to frustrate the UK and in the words of his mentor Brok 'punish' and 'sideline' the UK. Juncker, with Selmayr's assistance, has already branded freedom-loving Brits as 'deserters'.

For this reason, it is virtually impossible for the UK to gain any concessions from the EU that are in the UK's interests.

Anyone in Westminster who believes the EU won't pass up the UK's offer of a £40 billion exit fee should remember that it's small fry compared to the money spent by the EU on the Greek bailout, in which Selmayr was also involved.

The EU will pay any price for a policy victory if it means preserving their project.

Eurosceptics can be confident that Selmayr will reject a transition deal for example if he believes it is in the UK's interests and encourages further 'deserters'.

However, eurosceptics must also be watchful of Selmayr's efforts to divide UK opinion. If he believes a transition deal is a good way to keep the UK locked into the EU, he will take the opportunity to prolong the fight and use the additional months and years to muddy the reputation of those who have made Brexit a reality.


Selmayr is a legal academic and professor of economic and financial law at the universities of Saarland and Passau.

His father Gerhard Selmayr was also an influential lawyer and academic who served as private secretary to the German Chancellary's chief of staff.

His grandfather Josef Selmayr was a convicted Nazi war criminal who was later pardoned and became the secretive director of the German counterintelligence unit.

Some of his major gaffes mentioned in the UK press are:

1. Selmayr despises the British tradition of journalism.

He said: "I only read the British press once a year when I go on holiday to Spain.

"One can only read that stuff for 10 days on holiday, when one's blood pressure is low."

2. He described Boris Johnson as Prime Minister as a 'Nightmare Scenario', an impertinent and dangerous public statement from any civil servant as it shows no regard for the principal of the neutrality and independence of the bureaucrats.

3. He tried to belittle UK ministers by alleging they hadn't presented enough detail in the negotiations. He said: "I'm not an optimist - I am a realist and I think that we will get a great deal but only if the British figure out what they want. Surely they will manage that after the election?"

4. He was widely seen as the controlling hand behind leaks that followed Juncker meeting with the British PM at Downing Street. The clear effort to brief against Theresa May and the government was seen as a breach of trust and an insult to the UK.

5. He continues to accuse the UK of being unprepared with regular comments about the inadequacy of UK proposals.

6. He boasted about his violent response to a journalist. A journalist from Der Spiegel had upset Selmayr by reporting that he had ignored a phone call from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during Greek bailout talks. Selmayr spotted the journalist at a Brussels event in summer of 2017 and shouted to him, Selmayr saying said he would have punched the journalist in the face if he had had a chance when the story was published. The incident caused shock and silence in the event for German banking officials.

7. At the same event, he was quoted as saying Brits were 'stupid' for choosing to leave the EU project and that anything less than punishing the UK would be unacceptable.

8. When he was the top aide to EU Commissioner Vivian Reding when she made a series of gaffes during her speeches. a. admitting that 70% of law is made by the EU; b. rubbishing Cameron's Bloomberg speech demands; c. saying Brits are 'too ignorant' to make an informed choice in an EU membership referendum.

9. He was accused of upsetting former EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva by interfering in her policy development. Mrs Georgieva revealed that his overbearing style had also upset other Commissioners and their staff, although those Commissioners chose not to speak out.

10. He was accused of interfering in Greek bailout talks and infuriated German finance minister Wolfgang Schueble. Selmayr had received a negotiation proposal from the Greek government and in a tweet described it as a 'good basis' for the future week's talks, pre-empting what german government financiers might have said.

By: David Banks

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Monday, 23 July 2018

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