Michel Barnier’s new right hand

Her supporters say she won’t blink first in the Brexit talks, but Michel Barnier’s 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 negotiator’s 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 May’s 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 Johnson’s 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 Barnier’s 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,” 

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