And about time, too. The European Parliament has, for once, seen sense and called for an investigation into the mystery of how Jean-Claude Juncker’s top aide, Martin Selmayr, became secretary-general to the European Commission – the most powerful bureaucrat in the world.
Selmayr took up this 20,000 euro-a-month job on March 1 but it is a democratic outrage that 11 days were allowed to pass before yesterday’s probe was agreed upon by the parliament. Frankly, 11 hours would have been too long.
And yet, in a funny way, I am glad about the Selmayr stitch-up. First, it shines a bright light on how the unelected, unaccountable EU Commission operates. I believe the more people are aware of the truth, the weaker the institution becomes.
Second, through capturing so perfectly all that is wrong with the EU, this disgraceful episode ought to confirm in the mind of every Briton just how utterly rotten this absurd structure is and how lucky the UK is to be getting out of it. There’s no question some representatives of other EU states are so angry about this scandal they are casting an envious eye in our direction. Even Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s representative in the Brexit negotiations, and I agree on how shameful this situation is.
So how did it come about?
Selmayr, 47, is a German lawyer who has worked his way up over 17 years in Brussels to become one of the EU’s most influential power brokers. Before starting his new job this month, he was Juncker’s chief of staff. It is fair to say he is not universally liked or trusted even by the Brussels bureaucracy. One of his nicknames is Rasputin. Another is ‘the monster’.
Last month, he was appointed deputy secretary-general of the European Commission, placing him at the heart of the EU executive. He was apparently one of two people who applied for this position. Then, at the meeting confirming his appointment, the secretary-general Alexander Italianer announced his retirement. Juncker immediately proposed Selmayr as his successor.
Commissioners rubber-stamped this idea in the space of a few minutes. In effect, Selmayr was promoted twice during the same meeting. And in classic EU style, Italianer’s decision to quit was apparently added to the meeting’s agenda at the eleventh hour so that the news could not leak and any dissenting voices would be silenced.
Even the Chinese Communist Party would have embarked on such a coup in a more subtle way. But of course, why should Juncker – an anti-democrat – care? He can do pretty much as he pleases. This is what happens when power goes unchecked for so long.
The long-term intention of Juncker in promoting his pal is that Selmayr should remain at the top of the EU executive after Juncker’s term ends next year. He wants Selmayr to be the kingpin so that the young protege can fulfill his legislative aims, shape the EU as he wants it, and secure his legacy.
The European Parliament’s budget control committee is going to investigate this shady appointment, but if it finds that no rules were broken and that Selmayr can therefore remain in post, we need to ask what might be the consequences for Brexit.
Selmayr is an EU fanatic. He is furious that Britain is leaving the EU, fearing his beloved bloc might become less relevant a result.
This probably explains why he was accused of being the source responsible for leaking details of Theresa May’s private Brussels dinner with Juncker last October from which our prime minister emerged humiliated. A German newspaper report described Mrs May as having used the occasion to plead for her political life and said she appeared “anxious”, “tormented”, “despondent and discouraged”. These were low, low blows even by the standards of the EU machine.
Selmayr denies this allegation, but it is safe to say he does not favour making Brexit easy. On that basis, I think he is a dangerous individual too used to operating in the shadows to be truly objective. He is not a man who understands why 17.4 million of us voted to leave the EU. The fact that as an unelected officeholder he now embodies the reason so many of those 17.4 million people voted Leave is lost on him.
Of course, if Remainers are content to be governed by the Martin Selmayrs and Jean-Claude Junckers of this world, and would rather Britain was ultimately in the grip of such faceless bureaucrats, I would invite them to explain to the rest of us why we would be better off staying in the EU. For the life of me, I cannot imagine how anyone could possibly justify what is going in the upper reaches of the EU just now. As I said, even Guy Verhofstadt agrees with me on this one.
In this morning’s debate in Strasbourg, Selmayr sat behind and talked frequently to Michel Barnier, who sees himself as the next Jean-Claude Juncker. There appear to be no limits to the powers this puppet master holds. The government of a continent by the unelected and unaccountable may perhaps explain the Italian election revolt, and why the days of the European Union are numbered.