We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Lt Gen Sean Clancy Irish Defence Forces

Campaign across EU as Irish diplomats and defence figures canvass for top military role

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sean Clancy is in the running to take over the EU’s top military job.

IRISH DIPLOMATS AND officials including military representatives have been heavily canvassing across Europe as the campaign gathers pace to get an Irish military officer appointed to lead the European Union military committee. 

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sean Clancy has been in Europe in recent weeks and visited a number of countries to discuss his candidature for the chair of the European Union Military Committee (EUMC). 

Clancy is in the running to take over the top job from Austrian General Robert Brieger. 

Sources with a knowledge of the process have said that Ireland’s neutral status may be a positive when it comes to Clancy’s application. 

However, an experienced Brussels campaigner said that Ireland’s refusal to participate in the Defence Bonds scheme could scupper the Irish campaign to get the head of the EUMC post. 

The Tánaiste Micheál Martin got approval in March from Cabinet to formally nominate Clancy, currently Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces, for election to the position.

If he is successful he would leave his role as the leader of the Irish Defence Forces and would serve outside the State at the rank of General. He would also have a team of up to ten members of the Defence Forces as support staff.

The EUMC is the highest military body within the EU and was established in January 2001. The committee directs all military activity by the EU with particular attention for union military activities with the Common Security and Defence Policy.

Ireland’s military footprint in Brussels is already a heavy one – Brigadier General Ger Buckley, who is near to retirement, manages the team. 

They include soldiers stationed in NATO’s headquarters but also as part of the EUMC. There is also a team handling the training mission of Ukrainian soldiers. Additionally there are a number of Irish officials, some of whom are former Defence Forces members, attached to the European Defence Agency which is tasked with improving EU security capability. 

At the centre of the application for the EUMC  is a series of votes that will be made by the Chiefs of Defence (CHOD) who are on the committee. That decision will happen on 15 May.

A CHOD is a country’s head of the military and the committee is made up of every member states’ military leaders, usually represented by their permanent military representatives. The grouping works on conflict scenarios and crisis management.  

If Clancy gets the role he will vacate his job as Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and take up the position in 2025.

Ireland is up against a Slovenian and Polish candidate. It is believed that Clancy is seen as having a strong chance among those two candidates given his experience. 

But a source said that while Clancy’s experience and seniority in rank compare to the Polish candidate it may come down to the votes of NATO member states siding with a member of the alliance.

“Often these kind of votes in Brussels come down to who is in the right club,” the source explained. 

Strategic Intrigue

The strategic intrigue in the institutions of the European Union may also cause issues for Ireland with one job’s campaign being traded for another more suited gig.

This could mean that decisions to vote will not be taken on merit but how it can be used for votes to come – in other words countries will decide on how a vote in favour of a candidate could benefit them. Sources have said that countries’ could use their vote to curry favour with another state for a different post.

It is not the first time an Irish candidate went for the EUMC chair job. Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, who was then Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, was not successful in 2017.

With the concerns mooted across Europe on the continuing war in Ukraine and Russian pronouncements sources in Brussels told The Journal that there is a distinct chance that the EU will look to add a dedicated defence commissioner.

The EU, framed by its Strategic Compass document, has decided the way forward for the bloc is to enable defence spending and financing across the union. Officials The Journal spoke to in Brussels said that this strategy would bring all European countries up to a standard. 

52780463557_9a626ebd82_o General Robert Brieger (left) on a visit to McKee Barracks with Lt Gen Clancy. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

Part of that strategy is to find funding for the scheme from a joint borrowing scheme to finance a growth in an indigenous defence industry on the continent to equip armies. 

Ireland has an exemption from participation in mutual defence measures but in this instance the decision by Finance Michael McGrath to not participate in the scheme is more of a fiscal consideration.

As reported in the Business Post McGrath stated that he did not favour joint borrowing as it could endanger community financial stability.   

One experienced Brussels operator has said that this may result in Clancy’s candidature taking a step back.  

In Brussels it depends who you to speak to on whether Clancy will get the role. 

As one official said: “Take a look at the candidates – it is Ireland, Poland and Slovenia. The big countries like France and Germany, Spain or Italy are not looking to slot in one of their Chiefs of Defence.

“It says a lot where the focus in mutual defence rests and any analyst in Europe would suggest that those countries’ gaze is towards NATO rather than the European Union.”

Political sources in Brussels believe that Clancy could be seen as a compromise candidate, with Ireland’s neutral status regarded as a way to remove the normal squabbles between big countries. 

Defence sector sources feel that he could better the Polish candidate but that it will come down to a vote-off between Slovenia and Ireland and ultimately the NATO-related voters may carry the day. 

- With reporting from Muiris O’Cearbhaill.