Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

Selmayr shifted to Vienna, ahead of von der Leyen arrival

  • Martin Selmayr (l) has been Jean-Claude Juncker's (r) right hand man from the start of the Luxembourgish politician's bid for the commission presidency. His mix of sharpness and abrasiveness upset some in Brussels (Photo: European Commission)

After months of speculation on what will happen to arguably the most-powerful and most-talked about man in Brussels, Martin Selmayr, the EU Commission revealed on Wednesday (24 July) that from 1 November the controversial German will lead the EU executive's representation in Vienna.

Selmayr will leave his current job as the EU's top civil servant this week, and serve as special advisor to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for the remainder of this commission's mandate.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

From November on, he will head the EU commission's Vienna representation, which means he will represent the bloc in a sort of ambassadorial role.

"The five years of the Jean-Claude Juncker commission would be inconceivable without his contribution," commissioner for human resources, Guenther Oettinger, said Wednesday, on the news.

"Most people are grateful to him, and those who are not grateful to him, at least have respect for him," the fellow German added.

In the commission's statement, Selmayr was praised for "outstanding qualities and achievements", and "his strong commitment to the community method and his extraordinary sense of duty".

Selmayr has been teaching EU law at the University of Saarbrucken in Germany and at the Europe-University of Krems in Austria, which he will continue to do.

The German lawyer was feared and admired, often at the same time, for his bright intellect, ruthless leadership style and indefatigable working methods. He wanted to shake up the comfortable and apolitical bureaucracy of the Brussels bubble and he did.

For a spin doctor who likes influence and power, however, the Austrian capital might prove to be too sleepy - his appointment as Vienna EU ambassador came as a surprise to many, as he is "genetically incapable to rest", as one source put it.

Last week, as another German, former defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, won enough votes in the European parliament to become the new EU commission president, it became clear Selmayr would have to go.

Rise to the top

Von der Leyen wanted to please MEPs, and avoid having to deal with protecting a controversial figure not of her choosing at the start of her tenure.

With the EU commission presidency going to a German, and a fellow Christian Democrat, questions had been also raised whether the commission's civil servants should also be led by a German, in a community of 28 member states.

Moreover, the European Parliament already last year complained that Selmayr's promotion to his current job as the secretary general of the EU commission was "coup-like".

The EU's top watchdog also said last September that Selmayr's swift appointment to the job was wrong and risked undermining the public's trust in the EU institution.

The number of Selmayr's enemies grew with his promotion, but he had already irritated many as the head of Juncker's cabinet in the previous years.

Some EU ambassadors complained that he misled them, while some commissioners were irked that they did not have direct access to Juncker, only to Selmayr.

But nobody questioned his allegiance to the EU, his hard work, his political capabilities, and his knowledge of the EU law.

Selmayr started off in Brussels as a legal advisor for the German media company, Bertelsmann. In 2004, he joined the commission, first becoming the spokesman for Luxembourg's commissioner for media, Viviane Reding. Later on, he became her head of cabinet.

As the 2014 European election campaign kicked off, Selmayr became Juncker's campaign director and after the election win, Juncker's head of transition team. Controversy was already Selmayr's stock-in-trade back then.

There had been more recent speculation that he would get a top commission positing in London or Washington, or return to the European Central Bank (ECB), where he had worked before.

But until November, he will stay on in the Berlaymont, the commission's headquarters, where he built his formidable reputation, advising not only the outgoing but also the incoming commission president.

At the bureaucracy's helm, he will temporarily be replaced by his Latvian deputy, Ilze Juhansone, who has been serving as a deputy secretary-general since 2015.

Interview

Selmayr case symptomatic, says EU novel author

The controversy over the new EU Commission top civil servant is revealing of what is wrong with EU institutions and how they are blocked by national governments, says award-winning Austrian novelist Robert Menasse.

Selmayr slip discloses phone numbers in photo

The European Commission's most powerful administrator, Martin Selmayr, has revealed the mobile phone numbers of heads of cabinet, including his own, in a vanity shot.

Exclusive

Selmayr did not want top job, says predecessor

The controversial Martin Selmayr never wanted the promotion to top EU civil servant, according to his predecessor. That short-lived promotion saw criticism from both the European Ombudsman and the European Parliament as inflicting "reputational damage" on the EU.

Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

Ukraine and a looming economic recession is set to dominate the upcoming Swedish EU presidency, which takes over at the start of next year. Sweden's ambassador to the EU, Lars Danielsson, laid out some of its priorities.

Catalan spyware victims demand justice

Victims of the widening spyware scandal in Spain are demanding justice and reparations, following the revelations that journalists, lawyers, civil society and politicians had been targeted.

Investigation

EU lawmakers under pressure to act on 90,000 asbestos deaths

The EU Commission has watered-down a broad political initiative —but now governments of member states hold the key to what the EU should do. Some member states and regions have adopted asbestos strategies of some kind, from Poland to Flanders.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us