Jean Claude Juncker's closest henchman, Martin Selmayr, is positioning himself to become the European Union Commission's most powerful figure and the real puppet-master of the Brexit talks. He will have a central part in the EU Commission response to May's speech
Jean-Claude Juncker owes his whole life as EU Commission president to his enforcer Martin Selmayr.
Back in 2013, Selmayr outfoxed Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and pitched Juncker to a willing German people.
Merkel was placed into an impossible position. Now, most of her party supports Juncker and she is obliged to do the same.
Four years on, Juncker has become ever more reliant on Selmayr, who has leveraged his power many times over.
He now runs the EU Commission president's office and cabinet, handles his correspondence with commissioners, proposes strategy and writes his speeches.
One EU Commissioner who resigned in fury in December complained about Selmayr interfering in her policy area. After writing Juncker's policy, Selmayr cited the president's name to gain compliance.
Considering that he is arguably the most powerful official at the EU, it's amazing how rarely we hear about Selmayr.
However, on the few occasions that Selmayr has surfaced, it has been an angry intervention to scorn those who oppose his grand plan.
He is guilty of a series of gaffes picked up by the British media, even one of them would have justified his quiet removal from the spotlight in normal circumstances. Selmayr's powerful hold over Juncker and his personal cabinet office means that after 10 major publicity gaffes (listed below), Selmayr is still completely safe and continues unabashed.
Some of his major gaffes in the UK include:
1. He 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 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, 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 Kristalina Georgieva by interfering in policy. Mrs Georgieva said his overbearing style had also upset other Commissioners and their staff.
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.
One of the reasons for his unchallenged position is his alliance with the Union of European Federalists, 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 without Selmayr's knowledge.
The EU federalists' influence was then complete. They anointed their candidate, arranged his 'handler' and began lobbying to ensure their choice was selected.
Selmayr's backing by the UEF still continues to this day in the form of policy and strategy. It is only a matter of time before papers produced by the EU-wide UEF are picked up by the EU Commission, usually with a time-lag of just a few years, from conception to legislation.
While Barnier is a part of that same clique, other valuable UEF 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 a German government minister.
Selmayr's friendship with Altmaier, which goes back more than 20 years when they were members of the UEF's German branch "Europa Union," places Selmayr as the lynchpin to the relationship between the EU Commission and the German Government.
Merkel will return to the fray of EU politics after her general election win, but her influence will be on Selmayr's terms. It will embolden his whispering campaign against the UK, his efforts to divide the UK team and undermine the UK position in the eyes of the world.
Along with the EU Commission, he will use any means at their disposal to frustrate the UK and in the words of his mentor Brok 'punish' and 'sideline' the UK.
For this reason, it is virtually impossible for the UK to gain any concessions that are in its interests. The UK's offer of up to £40 billion in payments will be ignored if the EU Commission feels it helps them to win the "battle". After all, the sum being offered by the UK is less than 1/8th the value of the total Greek bailout so far, in which Selmayr was also involved.
Eurosceptics can be confident that Selmayr will reject a transition deal for example if he believes it is in the UK's interests. 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 and use the additional years to muddy the reputation of those who have made Brexit a reality.
By: David Banks