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07/12/2016

Selmayr: Brussels, London can join hands to avert Brexit

UK & Europe

Selmayr: Brussels, London can join hands to avert Brexit

Jean-Claude Juncker's right hand: Head of Cabinet Martin Selmayr (right).

[European Commission]

In the debate over EU reforms, the European Commission and the United Kingdom agree on many points, including the division of powers between the EU and its member states, according to the chief of staff of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. EurActiv.de reports.

The European Commission seems optimistic in its dispute with UK Prime Minister David Cameron over reworking the balance of power in the EU.

“We are not that far apart from each other,” said Martin Selmayr, the Head of Cabinet of Jean-Claude Juncker during a visit to Berlin on Monday (1 June).

“Cameron wants Brussels to only deal with the big issues and respect the subsidiarity principle. We want that too,” Selmayr said.

But, he indicated, the Commission intends to wait on concrete proposals from Cameron at the EU Summit at the end of June. Only then, can one discuss how these reforms are to be implemented, Selmayr explained.

“There are many possibilities,” he pointed out, citing the “Danish solution”. Pressed for time after a failed referendum, Copenhagen negotiated opt-outs through the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which Selmayr said could be used as a model by Britain.

>>Read: Danish minister warns Cameron: Don’t pursue our EU model

Selmayr also said he did not want to rule out amending the Treaties, though such a move requires referenda in individual member states. “And we don’t even know if this elaborate ratification process would be concluded in time for the British referendum.”

Last week, David Cameron toured European capitals to drum up support for his plans to reform the EU. His goal is to convince the other member states to budge ahead of the UK’s planned referendum in 2017 over staying in the EU.

Like Selmayr, German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not rule out amending the European Treaties.

Reports indicate there are also concerns in Germany over abuse of the social welfare system related to freedom of movement in Europe, Merkel said on Friday (29 May) after a meeting with Cameron in Berlin. Here, changes would “possibly” also be in Germany’s interest, the Chancellor indicated.

Five challenges the Juncker Commission currently faces

According to Selmayr, the UK’s EU referendum and London’s call for reforms are one of the five challenges currently facing the Juncker Commission. Another mammoth project is the €315 billion European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), which was approved by the European Parliament and Council last week.

Now, it is up to the European Investment Bank (EIB) to choose projects worthy of the plan’s support, Selmayr said, indicating that the focus is on the Digital Internal Market, the Energy Union and the capital markets union.

Strengthening European foreign policy in light of the Ukraine crisis is another huge task for Juncker, Selmayr said.

“As of now, we would like an EU army that we can make use of. But that takes time,” Selmayr indicated wittingly. Still, Juncker hopes to make European foreign policy quicker to respond and contribute to crisis resolutions over the next five years.

“Grexit” threatens the Euro-Project

At the same time, Selmayr warned against a Greek withdrawal from the eurozone. This would create more problems than it would solve, he said. Here, the 43-year-old agrees with his superior.

“I don’t share the idea that we will have fewer worries and restraints if Greece gives up the euro,” Juncker told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. If a country were to withdraw from the euro, “it would fix the idea in heads that the euro is not irreversible”, he warned.

Amid the the debate over the Greek debt crisis, Angela Merkel is scheduled to attend a meeting Monday evening in Berlin with Juncker and French President François Hollande. Officially, the talks between numerous European economic leaders are meant to focus on digitisation, but the financial crisis is likely to dominate the agenda.

Background

Martin Selmayr – former spokesman for ex-EU Commissioner Viviane Reding – has been the right hand of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker since 2014.

Hardly anyone knows the political ins-and-outs of Brussels better than Selmayr.

The 43-year-old lawyer and long-time EU official had a significant effect on the decision over who received which portfolio in the Commission.

The cluster structure of Juncker's Commission is also likely to have been Selmayr's idea.