Von der Leyen hints at Selmayr exit if she becomes Commission president
STRASBOURG — Ursula von der Leyen isn’t European Commission president, but she’s already effectively firing people, or rather just one person: Martin Selmayr.
Selmayr, the powerful Commission secretary-general, is out if she is confirmed to the EU’s top job, von der Leyen told members of the European Parliament from her own European People’s Party (EPP) on Monday.
Von der Leyen did not mention Selmayr, the closest confidante of current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, by name. But there was no mistaking her message when she told conservative MEPs that there was only room for one German at the very upper echelon of the EU’s executive body.
Asked about Selmayr during the meeting with the EPP group on Monday, von der Leyen replied “that there can be only one high-ranking German at the top” of the Commission, according to multiple participants. “And,” she added, “hopefully this will be me.“
That von der Leyen felt compelled to send such a signal underscored the anxiety she and her small team are feeling ahead of her confirmation vote on Tuesday evening, in which she needs an absolute majority of MEPs to secure the Commission presidency.
Selmayr was Juncker’s campaign chief during the 2014 EU election cycle — the first and potentially last time that the Spitzenkandidat (or lead candidate) system was used to fill the EU’s top job. Selmayr then went on to serve as Juncker’s chief of staff and earned the nickname Monster of the Berlaymont because of the merciless skill with which he wielded power on behalf of his boss.
But Selmayr’s move into the top civil servant position — in a controversial, rapid-fire two-step promotion process last year — angered many of his critics in Parliament, which adopted a resolution calling on him to resign.
A number of MEPs have indicated they want to know von der Leyen’s plans for Selmayr, especially because her nomination raised concerns that Germany, the EU’s biggest and richest country, would become too powerful in Brussels with her in the top post.
Much to the satisfaction of the European Parliament, and of some in her own group, von der Leyen hinted that she would sack Selmayr, though as a civil servant he can remain in a Commission job of some sort.
In the meeting with the EPP family, she stressed that she considered herself a European and not a German candidate, but that she was aware of concerns about two top people from one country at the top of the Commission and would act accordingly, according to three participants of the meeting.