Jean-Claude Juncker's key aide Martin Selmayr becomes Brussels' top civil servant

Catherine Neilan
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Selmayr is thought to have been behind the hostile leak against Theresa May last year (Source: Getty)

Jean-Claude Juncker's right hand man Martin Selmayr has been made the most senior civil servant in the European Commission in a surprise move.

Selmayr, currently the head of Cabinet, is taking over the role from Alexander Italianer who has decided to retire from 1 March. Clara Martinez Alberola takes Selmayr's former job - the first woman in that role - and Richard Szostak becomes the deputy head of Cabinet.

Juncker said: "This morning, Alexander Italianer confirmed to me his wish to retire as Secretary-General of the Commission as of 1 March. I want to express my deep gratitude to him for decades of loyal service to the European Commission and over the past three years to me as its President. I truly appreciated working with such an experienced and knowledgeable Secretary-General and I want to thank him for his skillful steer of our administration, as well as for having agreed to stay on for another month to ensure a smooth transition."

Selmayr is now positioned at the heart of Brussels and will steer the administration in implementing Juncker’s legislative legacy for the next 20 months — and most likely continue his work after Juncker's departure.

He is a divisive figure both within the European Commission and beyond, having played a key role in the Brexit process as well as shaking up the Brussels bureaucracy over the last three years.

He is believed to be behind at least some of the Brussels-based leaks that painted Theresa May in a particularly bad light, suggesting she looked "tormented" and was "begging" for help. The leak occurred in the weeks before December's 11th-hour joint agreement that paved the way for sufficient progress to be granted.

But it is not just the UK he appears to be at loggerheads with: he is rumoured to have a fractious relationship with the EU's chief negotiator and Juncker's some-time presidential rival Michel Barnier.

Barnier is widely seen as Juncker's most likely successor but Selmayr's promotion means Juncker's legacy should continue well beyond his tenure.

Juncker said: "The next 20 months will be decisive in fully delivering on a Europe that protects, empowers and defends. I need the best team in place... Over the past years, Clara and Martin have earned my full trust and confidence. They have proven that together, they make a very strong team that can find swift and sound solutions to the most pressing challenges that Europe faces.

"With their professionalism, expertise and strong team spirit, the Commission will be able to deliver its legislative agenda and prepare for the future."

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