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Friday 27 October, 2018

Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff is a Eurofederalist “hellbent” on bringing Britain down

The eponymous heroine of this summer’s comic book blockbuster Wonder Woman expends the film’s running time charging from wartime London to the Kaiser’s Germany via the Somme in search of her nemesis, Ares, God of War. Spoiler Alert: eventually she discovers her fellow deity is not the genocidal German general she’s been chasing, but the bland bureaucrat introduced in an early scene.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff Martin Selmayr is a recognisable member of the EU cast. And while the plain-looking EU civil servant has been ensnaring political opponents in the shadows for some time, only now is he moving front of stage and emerging as the Brexit saga’s greatest villain.

David Cameron was one of the first to come a cropper at the hands of the EU fanatic, way back in 2014 when the British Prime Minister was left isolated amongst the Euro-elite in opposing the perennially tipsy Juncker for Commission President. Cameron had expected Selmayr’s compatriot Angela Merkel to back him, but the Brussels fixer had already built up too much momentum behind Juncker within the EPP, the pan-European Christian Democrat alliance that includes Merkel’s CDU party. Frau Merkel is not the kind of leader to fight battles she does not fully expect to win.

He was later to repeat the trick in successfully disrupting Cameron’s failed negotiation. The then prime minister’s calls for Selmayr to be sacked fell on deaf ears. He now has his sights on scuppering Brexit with a disinformation campaign Joseph Goebbels would have been proud of. It is Mr Selmayr who is widely recognised for repeated leaks of dinners held between Theresa May and Juncker. The latest, published at the beginning of this week, claim Mrs May “begged” Juncker for help in reviving negotiations.

The formation of a fanatic

An examination of Selmayr’s upbringing and his rise to the top of the EU’s gargantuan bureaucracy is a lesson in why Remainer hopes of reforming the EU purely along free-market lines is utterly deluded. Selmayr’s higher education odyssey – German students often graduate after their thirtieth birthday – included a stint at King’s College London where he heard Margaret Thatcher “basically blasting” John Major over the Maastricht capitulation at an event promoting her memoirs.

“I saw that there is a big misunderstanding between Britain and the rest of the EU,” he later remarked. “For the Germans and French, it is unthinkable to see the European project only as a market; the market is an instrument to achieve something more.”

Selmayr’s worldview has been shaped by the wartime accounts of his grandparents. His grandmother experienced the full force of Bomber Command. His grandfather, a former Lieutenant Colonel who served in Hitler’s General staff and served four years for war crimes, once took a young Selmayr to Verdun, a formative experience for the future EU power broker.

The enduring power of NATO, Western economic interdependence and Europe’s diminishing role in global affairs are obstructions to war Selmayr and his ilk refuse to acknowledge: no, what Europe needs is an all-devouring Eurocracy disguised as a market building project. The jokes on us though, the single market pitch has seduced the British Establishment for generations.

But it is not all about Europe. Senior aides to both Cameron and May describe Selmayr as not only fanatically pro-EU, but anti-British too.



A Brussels kind of bad boy

“Juncker is the good guy and I’m the bad guy. That’s how it is”, Selmayr told the Financial Times in a rare interview. But in many ways, Eurosceptics owe Selmayr a debt of gratitude. Had Cameron been able to extract more out of Juncker and Merkel, we would be in a very different place. His extraordinary influence for a bureaucrat also provides an insight into EU dysfunctionality and particularly the uselessness of Mr Juncker.

Juncker is no match for his second in command, known in Brussels for working seven days a week and he owes him big for his plum job at the top of European government: the glory, the champagne, the fat pension and zero accountability.

“Neither can be bypassed,” says a UK official. “One is barely functional and Selmayr is the functional bit”.

There is no rest for the wicked, indeed Juncker sometimes refers to him as “the monster”. Selmayr sprang into action the moment Article 50 was triggered. No-one else was suspected of leaking Juncker’s reflections on the dinner held at Downing Street in April, which were splashed all over German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ).

“I’m leaving Downing Street 10 times more sceptical than I was before”, Juncker was reported to have said. Theresa May was accused of “living in another galaxy” and “deluding herself”.

Selmayr exploited the swathes of the British media out to denigrate the quest for independence at every turn. Without him, the campaign to portray the Government’s handling of Brexit as shambolic would have been nowhere near as effective.

On Monday, FAZ published its “begged for help” revelations from Theresa May’s return dinner in Brussels. “Someone bent on destruction”, is how one senior British official described the leaker.

“There were only six people in the room and Barnier would never have done that”, David Davis later commented.

The  FAZ spread was published a few days after the October EU summit during which Merkel, Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk did a rather excruciating job of appearing to be positive about Brexit. Working behind the scenes to reposition the British prime minister on her more familiar backfoot was Selmayr, a case of one step forward, two back and no closer to starting trade talks.

On at least two occasions he has forced Juncker to withdraw verbal pledges made at the negotiating table. Neither accord could have been considered a breakthrough – the most notable was for negotiations to continue on a rolling basis – but their undoing helped to slow down already painfully glacial talks.

The devil’s work does not come without a price, however. Selmayr is said to be suffering from paranoia over rumours British intelligence has an open file on him. He now delivers sensitive information via hard copy rather than email to avoid intrusion.

Barnier bruised

Selmayr is no saintly figure in the corridors of the Commission though. “He is interfering in everything”, complains one EU official.

The interferer has also developed a considerable grudge against Michel Barnier. On all matters related to the UK’s impending departure, Barnier has a direct line with Juncker. Selmayr has let his jealousy known by childishly pushing for references to Barnier to be replaced with “the Commission” in EU documents (…only in Brussels.)

Unable to interact with Barnier on equal terms, Selmayr has resorted to pulling Juncker’s strings to influence matters. Jean-Claude Juncker has a crucial role, with “Selmayr ensuring that his role and full authority is felt everywhere”, says another UK official.

Rumours of discord between Barnier and Selmayr “are wishful thinking by those who don’t want the negotiations to succeed,” Commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva said. “Martin Selmayr and Michel Barnier are an excellent team and both work loyally for the president and the institution as a whole.”

Theresa May is a national leader negotiating against twenty-seven nations, an unimaginably powerful bureaucracy and a supranational parliament. Defaming her does carry consequences, observing strains in the relationship between a negotiator and a bureaucrat, who under normal circumstances would be completely anonymous, does not. The spokesperson’s intervention speaks volumes of the need the Commission feels to protect and promote Selmayr’s image. Selmayr took to Twitter to defend himself as soon as the latest leak gained traction. A man of his station would be better advised not to draw attention to himself.

But that is not Mr Selmayr’s game, for one he is intent on running what both he and Juncker like to call a more “political” Commission. As if it was not political enough. As far as he is concerned, the higher his profile, the better. The man thinks himself a god, although there is nothing remotely celestial about him. Theresa May is no Wonder Woman, but she has the means at her disposal to deliver the most powerful man in Brussels a mortal blow. For the sake of a less troublesome Brexit, she should seek to do so.