Trade

Michel Barniers new right hand

Her supporters say she wont blink first in the Brexit talks, but Michel Barniers new deputy will need guile and nerve to hold the EU line against a rejuvenated U.K.

Clara Martínez Alberola takes up the position as the EU Brexit negotiators deputy vacated by “Brexit bad cop” Sabine Weyand. She had developed an uncompromising reputation for attention to detail and robust defense against U.K. briefings aimed at destabilizing the EU negotiating position.

But gone are the days of Theresa Mays ministers negotiating while looking over their shoulder at a U.K. parliament (and government) divided over the central questions posed by Brexit — as well as doubts over whether the U.K. departure would actually happen.

Boris Johnsons thumping 80-seat majority in the House of Commons has brought an end to strategic uncertainty in London and makes his government, potentially, a more formidable negotiating partner. That may test EU unity in new ways, putting more pressure on Barniers team.

Just like Weyand, the 56-year-old Martínez Alberola has spent her entire career in the EU institutions and is known for combining cross-sector knowledge and management skills with political smarts — qualities that will be crucial as the two sides begin talks on this most political of trade deals.

Former President of the European Union Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (L) with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and Clara Martinez Alberola at the opening of a College of Commissioners at the EU headquarters in Brussels on January 30, 2019. | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

“She is very clinical and methodological in her work. She actually seems more German than Spanish,” said Esteban González Pons, an MEP from the center-right European Peoples Party who, like Martínez Alberola, is from Valencia.

A long-time friend, who was “born the same day [August 21], in the same hospital,” González Pons said Barniers new deputy would be able to juggle the different interests like trade, fisheries, banking or transport.

One fear in Brussels is that under the extreme time pressure to secure a deal in 11 months, the interests of EU countries in different sectors can be prized apart.

“We need somebody like her in Barniers cabinet who wont allow that the Brits divide us,” González Pons said, adding: “In the negotiation game with the British, she will never be the one who blinks first.”

David McAllister, the chair of the European Parliaments foreign affairs committee and a member of its Brexit steering group, lauded her as “a highly qualified woman” whose expertise was going to be needed in “very complex” negotiations.

Martínez Alberola — who also speaks English, French, Italian and some Portuguese — studied law in Valencia before enrolling at the College of Europe, the training school for Eurocrats. She was one of the first Spaniards to join the EUs civil service in 1991, only a few years after Madrids accession to the bloc.

González Pons says she enjoys gardening, reading, watching the French Open tennis tournament at Roland-Garros and supporting her local Valencia CF football team on TV.

She rose through the ranks as an expert in internal market affairs, enlargement and pharmaceutical issues, before becoming an adviser to former Commission President José Manuel Barroso. In 2014, she was promoted to deputy cabinet chief under Jean-Claude Juncker, Barrosos successor.

According to Commission insiders, that move was in part thanks to her close ties with Martin Selmayr, Junckers then powerful chief of staff.

About four years later, the Spanish Eurocrat was at the center of the highly controversial promotion of the German to the role of Commission secretary-general in February 2018.

In what many regarded as a highly irregular procedure, Selmayr had applied for the job of the deputy secretary-general with just one rival candidate, Martínez Alberola, and who then — it was widely reported — conveniently withdrew her candidature. Minutes after Selmayr had secured the deputy position, it was announced that secretary-general Alexander Italianer was retiring, making Selmayr his successor.

MartínezAlberola, meanwhile, benefitted from the musical chairs by taking over Selmayrs old job as cabinet chief for Juncker, who told reporters at the time: “Over the two-and-half years that I have been in this job, I have seen that she has knowledge which really exceeds the ordinary.” She has always neither confirmed nor denied that she applied for the deputy secretary-general position.

While Selmayr left his position in July and is now the EUs representative in Austria, Martínez Alberola will almost inevitably be confronted with suspicions that she is part of the so-called “Selmayr deep state” that outlasts his departure — and may prepare his return to Brussels.

González Pons rejected that idea. “Clara has a long-time career,” he said. “When Selmayr arrived to the Commission, she was already there. She coincided with him, they get along very well I suppose, but she doesnt owe him her careRead More – Source

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