SINCE EARLY NOVEMBER, Enda Kenny, along with the Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, has been mentioned as a possible successor to either Hermann Von Rompuy, the current President of the European Council, or José Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission. Though Kenny has ruled himself out of the running for the positions as the European People’s Party (EPP) prepares to hold its congress to select candidates in Dublin in March, he could be an extremely import ally for an Irish Government seeking a retrospective bailout if, for example, he became President of the Commission.
What could Enda Kenny as President of the European Council, or of the Commission, do for the EU and for Ireland?
The first priority of a Kenny Presidency would be to ensure that the UK stayed in the EU. The British Prime Minister David Cameron has recently pledged an in-out referendum on EU membership between 2015 and 2017, if the Conservatives win the 2015 election. Though it remains unclear exactly what areas Cameron will seek to negotiate on, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (at a conference on EU reform) emphasised the need to deepen the single market and prioritise free trade deals with China and the US.
One of the few leaders that could keep the UK in the EU
This call by Osborne could be facilitated by a Kenny Presidency. After all, it was under the Irish Presidency of the EU that the ground work was started on the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Furthermore Kenny is a leader of a country that is home to 700 US firms who export €100 billion worth of goods and services, and has arguably the strongest relationship with the US of any other member state, with the exception of the UK. This background, along with Ireland’s close relationship with the UK at a bilateral and EU level, makes Kenny one of the few leaders in Europe to keep the UK in the EU.
A Kenny Presidency could also be important to Ireland’s economic interests at a European level. True, by taking one of the Presidencies, Kenny would have to be neutral. However there are other ways to shape the EU agenda. Under Article 17.6 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the President of the Commission ‘shall lay down guidelines within which the Commission is to work’. As President, Kenny could bring policies, designed to gain the greatest support across the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, which would be advantageous to Ireland.
Furthermore, he could use the platform of the Presidency to champion Ireland’s cause for a retrospective bailout, any hopes of which were ended after Barroso ruled out such a bank deal last December. As long as Kenny campaigned for such a deal as part of any agreement on burden sharing, which would have to be part of any attempt to create a deeper economic union between the eurozone countries, then Kenny would be able to get away with it. Likewise as President of the European Council, Kenny could drive forward any work on a retrospective bailout or on policies aimed to stimulate the European economy. Such power is enshrined in Article 15.6 of the TEU.
Historic opportunity for Kenny
Pro-stimulus policies would certainly be greeted by left wing and austerity-fatigued leaders like French President François Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Furthermore the number of member states supporting austerity policies in the Council has been reduced since the height of the financial crisis. This, coupled with Angela Merkel having to share power with the left wing SPD, and the ending of the crisis in the eurozone means that there is a historic opportunity for Kenny to bring about an agreement between the member states on the policies needed to get the European economy growing again.
If Kenny could get such an agreement, not only would the member states benefit at a national level, but so would Europe. A strong economic recovery in Europe would make it a hard sell by those in Britain campaigning to leave the EU, and if the UK rejected leaving the Union, then Ireland would have no fear of the Council pushing through policies that would harm its economic interests.
A Kenny Presidency of the European Council or the EC could deliver this potential, and yet Kenny has opted to seek another term as Taoiseach. Though his place in history would be secured if he led Fine Gael to a second consecutive term in office, this would pale in comparison to what he could achieve for his country, and for Europe, as President of the European Council or of the Commission.
David Moloney is a PhD at the University of Limerick after having been awarded a scholarship. His PhD will explore the role of MEPs, and officials from the Council of Ministers in shaping the EU’s response to the economic crisis in the Member States. David is a former employee of the European Parliament. Follow him on Twitter @Dav_Moloney