Saturday 15 December 2018

'If he goes, I go' - Juncker fumes in row over adviser

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attends the European Union leaders summit in Brussels with the embattled Martin Selmayr. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/ Reuters
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attends the European Union leaders summit in Brussels with the embattled Martin Selmayr. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/ Reuters

James Rothwell

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has threatened to resign if his most senior adviser is forced out of a new job at the helm of the EU civil service.

Martin Selmayr, a 47-year-old German lawyer renowned for his shrewd tactics and virulent anti-Brexit stance, was suddenly promoted to the position of secretary general at the Commission in February.

The appointment sparked a furore in Brussels, with MEPs complaining that the appointment was orchestrated in secret, which made the EU look like an "old boys' club".

Mr Selmayr was reportedly handed the job by Mr Juncker in a matter of minutes, following the sudden retirement of his predecessor Alexander Italianer.

But in a meeting with EU leaders on Thursday evening, Mr Juncker fumed: "If he goes, I go," according to German magazine 'Der Spiegel'.

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he suspected the row would end with Mr Juncker having his way as "the real power in the EU is with the Commission".

Mr Selmayr's meteoric rise to power is a frequent source of grumbling for MEPs and diplomats, with some accusing him of using bullying tactics to push through his political agenda.

Some former colleagues refer to him as the "monster in the Berlaymont" - the Commission's headquarters.

Mr Selmayr has also been accused of trying to "wreck Brexit", which has led to some Eurosceptics in the UK pining for his dismissal. In September, he branded the UK's decision to leave the bloc as "stupid" and suggested it could be reversed.

He is also suspected of being the source of embarrassing leaks for Britain about a private dinner between Theresa May and Mr Juncker to the 'Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung', a charge he denies.

A parliamentary committee is due on Tuesday to review whether correct procedure was followed in his appointment.

But Mr Juncker won strong backing from the leaders of France and Germany yesterday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron faced questions about Mr Selmayr at a joint summit news conference.

Ms Merkel said she was pleased his appointment was being reviewed, but praised his "efficiency" and said: "I very much appreciate the work of Martin Selmayr."

Mr Macron, too, offered his personal backing and cautioned against the EU "beating itself up" over questions of the transparency of an appointment when other countries had much bigger problems.

"I have always appreciated the professionalism of this person. His abilities should not be questioned," he said.

Irish Independent

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