Verhofstadt calls out Juncker for appointment of Martin Selmayr

Last year, European governments shifted responsibility for vaccination procurement to the EU. This is because German Chancellor Angela Merkel reasoned that it would have strained EU cohesion if Germany had procured privileged supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was funded by Berlin. The move seems to have backfired: so far, the UK has vaccinated over nine million people, while the whole of the European Union has vaccinated just over 10 million, despite accounting for 27 countries.

This is why the news that AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish vaccine-maker, may supply less than 40 percent of the doses the EU expected in the first quarter has sparked fury among the bloc’s leaders.

Amid the recriminations, in an extraordinary move on Friday night, the bloc announced it would introduce the export controls on its vaccines entering Northern Ireland in a bid to prevent the region becoming a backdoor for jabs to be sent to the UK’s mainland.

London, Dublin and Belfast immediately condemned the decision and a few hours later, Brussels decided to reverse the move.

In the aftermath of this fiasco, Brussels remains in damage limitation mode.

On Sunday, top EU diplomat Martin Selmayr, who revelled in his nickname “the Monster of Brussels” during his time serving as Jean-Claude Juncker’s aide, attempted to make a comparison between Europe’s vaccine rollout rate and that of Africa, the poorest continent on Earth.

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Mr Selmayr, who now serves as the EU Commission representative in Austria, wrote: “The EU, thanks to the joint work of 27 governments, EU Commission, researchers and companies vaccinated 12 million people in three weeks.

“128 countries have not yet started vaccinating, e.g. Japan, South Africa.

“In Africa only 20,000 people have been vaccinated so far.”

It wasn’t long before Mr Selmayr’s tweet backfired, with Twitter users pointing out that in many countries in Africa, vaccination programmes are having to wait while richer countries, including many of those in the EU, get a head start.

When a Brussels-based journalist pointed out exactly that, accusing Mr Selmayr of making a crass comparison and “self-owning Brussels” style, the diplomat replied, saying he misunderstood.

He wrote: “The EU wants that everybody can be vaccinated.”

Mr Selmayr served as Mr Juncker’s chief of staff and was reportedly determined to “punish” Britain for leaving the bloc in the Brexit negotiations.

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His fearsome reputation was summed up by many nicknames, including Darth Vadar, Rasputin and The Monster.

Ministers were said to be particularly concerned about his links to the higher echelons of the German government.

He was a member of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, and friends with Peter Altmaier, her chief of staff.

Mr Selmayr was not a personal friend of Mrs Merkel but Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, believed he was trying to manipulate the German Chancellor into taking a tough line on Brexit Britain.

He said in 2017: “They [Mr Selmayr and Mr Juncker] want to box Mrs Merkel into a hard line.

“They don’t care if negotiations succeed, they are obsessed with the idea of the European Union – it’s where their money, jobs and power come from.”

A Whitehall source who had frequent dealings with Mr Selmayr told The Telegraph: “He is incredibly clever, he is unbelievably hard-working, he is a consummate operator.

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“He is also a true believer in the European Project and has taken Brexit very personally.

“He has always felt the UK was getting in the way of greater European integration and is clear that if you choose to leave there is a cost to doing so. His mindset is that of a lawyer, whose worldview is about rules and not political judgment.”

British officials believed that Mr Selmayr was determined to poison the negotiations in a bid to “punish” the UK for leaving the EU.

While the EU referendum vote threw much of the European Union into despair, Mr Selmayr reportedly declared at the time it was good news – because Eurosceptic Britain would be cut away – and this would help “Europe to finally forge a new identity”.

In 2016, he said that his “horror scenario” for the following year would have been Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, Donald Trump as US President and Marine Le Pen in France.

He was subsequently credited with some of the European Union’s most hard-line negotiating positions, including its demand that Britain must pay a £50billion Brexit divorce bill.

In 2014, Mr Selmayr ran Mr Juncker’s campaign for the presidency of the European Commission.

He succeeded in persuading Mrs Merkel to drop her opposition, leaving former Prime Minister David Cameron isolated.

Asked about his “monster” nickname, Mr Selmayr said at the time: “If you look into the history of Rasputin, that can be both flattering and not — Lenin can be flattering or not.

“If it means there is an efficient manager, somebody who is not a wimp, I’m OK with that.

“You can’t run the European Commission like a Montessori school.”

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