Sunday

15th Dec 2019

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join 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.

Leaders face crucial EU summit for climate action

EU leaders are meeting on Thursday and Friday in three different formats: a regular summit to discuss the EU's long-term budget and the 2050 climate-neutrality goal, a European Council (Article 50) meeting, and a European summit.

News in Brief

  1. EU Scream podcast wins media award
  2. Sturgeon will set out Scottish independence plan next week
  3. Slovenia, Croatia ex-leaders highlight jailed Catalans
  4. Italian court tells Facebook to reopen fascist party's account
  5. EU extends sanctions on Russia until mid-2020
  6. UK exit poll gives Johnson majority of 86
  7. Orban: 'financial guarantees' to reach climate neutrality
  8. Merkel hopes EU leaders agree 2050 climate-neutrality

Wilmès becomes first female PM of Belgium

On Sunday, Sophie Wilmès was appointed as the new prime minister of Belgium - becoming the first female head of government in the country's history. She replaces Charles Michel who becomes president of the European Council.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU values face scrutiny This WEEK
  2. EU sighs relief after 'decisive' Johnson victory in UK
  3. Huge win for Conservatives in UK election
  4. Behind bars: a visit to an imprisoned Catalan politician
  5. Leaders agree 2050 climate neutrality - without Poland
  6. EU leaders cagey on 'Future of Europe' conference
  7. Pressure mounts to grill Malta's Muscat at EU summit
  8. Revealed: little evidence to justify internal border checks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us