BRUSSELS — The potential return of the “Monster of the Berlaymont” is freaking out Brussels.
The halls of Brussels’ establishments are abuzz with gossip (and a few concern) that Martin Selmayr, as soon as the European Fee’s prime civil servant, identified for his abrasive management type, is ready to return to the mothership as his project in Austria hits the time period restrict. If an official of his seniority have been to return to Brussels, it must be to an enormous job.
POLITICO spoke to a dozen EU officers in Brussels, all of whom stated his return to Brussels was unwelcome, unlikely and, within the phrases of 1 Fee official, even “unthinkable” below the present boss of the European Fee, Ursula von der Leyen, who runs a decent ship.
Nonetheless, the officers have been granted anonymity to talk freely about Selmayr, who continues to be seen as a strong determine, however has been packed off at a protected distance to go the European Fee’s workplace in Vienna.
In an indication that even he could settle for that he might have to remain out of the bottom camp for some time longer, Selmayr has been interviewed to turn out to be the subsequent EU ambassador to Switzerland, two officers accustomed to the interview course of instructed POLITICO. Based on the EU’s personal tips, ambassadors are appointed by the presidents of the European Council and the European Fee following a proposal from the EU’s international coverage chief.
Selmayr obtained a murky fast-track promotion in 2018, from chief of workers to then-Fee President Jean-Claude Juncker to secretary-general of the European Fee. The European Ombudsman stated that accelerated appointment “didn’t observe EU legislation, in letter or spirit, and didn’t observe the Fee’s personal guidelines” and it was broadly seen as a Machiavellian energy transfer to pay attention Selmayr’s energy.
As one European Fee official put it, traditional Selmayr strikes throughout his time in Brussels included, for instance, steamrolling the opposition, implementing choices even the place he had no formal authority, and selling his favourite candidates.
Selmayr resigned from his prime civil servant position as Fee President Ursula von der Leyen secured her nomination, a concession to critics nervous about too many German officers within the Fee’s highest echelons. For von der Leyen, it was a double win, affording the European Parliament a triumph at a time when she wanted their help (and nomination), and permitting her to be seen as having deposed the highly effective civil servant as she asserted her personal affect in Brussels.
In an interview with a German information outlet final yr, Selmayr stated he wouldn’t be unhappy to return to Brussels. However von der Leyen’s outsized affect in Brussels, mixed with Selmayr’s controversial management ways, make a Fee comeback almost unattainable, in keeping with two senior officers within the EU government.
“So long as Ursula sits the place she sits, Martin will spin across the EU reasonably than be within the EU,” one EU official stated. “She is going to maintain him safely away to not erode her energy. On the identical time, he’s additionally sensible sufficient to appreciate that he has to remain away for now.”
Selmayr didn’t reply to a request for remark.
Since Selmayr’s departure from Brussels in 2019, the Fee’s interior workings have been remodeled. Whereas Selmayr was the “energy behind the throne” below Juncker, von der Leyen and her proper hand, Björn Seibert, run a tighter ship.
4 different Fee officers stated hypothesis is rife amongst colleagues regarding Selmayr’s potential return and present energy dynamics on the prime of the Fee, given the starkly completely different kinds of present senior Fee officers. Von der Leyen has run the EU government in a extra top-down, presidential method, particularly in steering the bloc by the pandemic and Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. Since she took management, the Fee’s energy has grown significantly.
In a means, von der Leyen is the brand new Martin Selmayr, stated Steven Van Hecke, a professor in European politics on the Catholic College of Leuven. “This was all the time a tough level: He was ‘solely’ the chief of workers or the secretary common. He all the time stated that he didn’t do something with out Juncker’s blessing, however he did have an opportunity to leap in that gap. Von der Leyen doesn’t go away that house.”
Based on EU commonplace observe, diplomats rotate out each 4 years. Within the final European diplomatic reshuffle, Selmayr was shortlisted to turn out to be the bloc’s ambassador to both the U.S. or the United Nations, two key postings for defending EU pursuits. As a substitute of securing a type of posts, nevertheless, Selmayr’s time in Austria was prolonged.
The Fee refused to touch upon Selmayr’s future posting.
As with Austria, a posting to Switzerland is seen by some officers as diplomatic exile, a spot the place Selmayr’s harm potential is proscribed. “It’s a quiet good place the place he can do no hurt,” yet one more Fee official stated.