Brussels’ most powerful and controversial civil servant has just days left in office.
In a bid to help German conservative Ursula von der Leyen get elected as European Commission president and calm worries of too many German officials at the highest echelons of the EU executive, Secretary-General Martin Selmayr told POLITICO he will leave his job “at the end of next week.”
Known as the “Monster of the Berlaymont,” Selmayr earned his infamous reputation during his years as Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff. Diplomats regularly referred to him as “Voldemort — he who must not be named.”
Controversy erupted following his fast-tracked promotion to secretary-general, the Commission’s top civil servant, in February last year. The news angered many MEPs, and made headlines beyond the Brussels bubble — even featuring on TV news in EU member countries like the Netherlands and Italy, unusual for inner-EU bureaucratic workings. Selmayr also became a bête noire for Brexiteers, who accused him of wanting to punish Britain for leaving the EU.
His controlling style (he had a hand in shaping all sorts of files, from migration to trade deals), ruthlessness and controversial promotion earned him a comparison to Frank Underwood from the U.S. TV series “House of Cards,” but also spurred criticism against an opaque EU bureaucratic machine that lacks accountability.
POLITICO has collected a selection of quotes from politicians, officials and other public figures about Selmayr.
“The combination with Martin Selmayr is just poisonous … I can’t take it anymore” — former Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva told POLITICO in September 2016 before resigning, complaining about being sidelined by Juncker’s chief of staff at the time.
Selmayr’s appointment as secretary-general was “a coup de force, leaving a great deal of mistrust and doubt between the Commission on the one hand and the other institutions, the press and the public, on the other” — Ingeborg Grässle, former chair of the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee, in an op-ed in French newspaper Libération in May 2018.
“Mr. Selmayr’s appointment did not follow EU law, in letter or spirit, and did not follow the Commission’s own rules” — EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, in her report published February 2019.
“If the commissioners are so easily intimidated by a civil servant … then how can we expect them to stand up for the European interest?” — Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld during a parliamentary debate on Selmayr’s promotion in March 2018.
“He’s somebody who works hard for the Commission and Mr. Juncker. Let’s not turn him into some kind of a monster” — European Commissioner for Budget Günther Oettinger to the Parliament in March 2018.
“It’s shady, it’s nepotism, it’s completely invisible for citizens. Thus this confirms precisely the negative image that is always painted by the opponents of the EU” — Dutch comedian Arjen Lubach in a special episode of his TV show “Zondag met Lubach” on Selmayr’s promotion in March 2018.
“I want Martin Selmayr to become the most famous person in the whole of Europe. I want every voter across all the member states to understand how this place operates” — Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage to POLITICO in March 2018.
“He is a good administrator, he was a good spokesman, and he’s a good academic and he has good political judgement” — former German MEP Elmar Brok told POLITICO in 2016.
“These are people totally committed to seeing that Britain is harmed” — former British Trade Minister Greg Hands, referring to Selmayr and former Brexit deputy negotiator Sabine Weyand, in a blog post in January. Selmayr replied that this claim was “false” and that he is “not anti-British.”
“I made a joke about Selmayr in my Brussels talk last week. Not many laughed. (A) not a good joke (B) audience didn’t know who he was (C) audience was afraid to laugh” — Portuguese politician and author Bruno Maçães in a tweet in February 2018.
“Mr. Selmayr will not step down because I’m the only one being capable to ask him to step down” — Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in March 2018 at a press conference, reacting to demands by the parliament for Selmayr to quit.