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Taoiseach 'will engage' with Coalition partners on choice of successor to Ursula von der Leyen

Fine Gael are the only Irish party in the European Parliament who support frontrunner Ursula von der Leyen.

TAOISEACH SIMON HARRIS has said that it is for the European Council and newly elected MEPs to decide on a successor to Ursula von der Leyen, but that he will engage with Coalition parties ahead of formal discussions on the matter.

He was speaking from Brussels, where European leaders are to discuss who could get the top jobs in the EU following last week’s elections, with Von der Leyen seen as likely to win a second term as European Commission president.

Ahead of an informal meeting and dinner this evening, Harris said the European Council will “take stock” and discuss the personalities in the running for the top EU jobs, but will not make a decision today.

The coming weeks will see nominations for candidates for the commission presidency, the next head of the European Council and the commission’s foreign-affairs ambassador – known as the High Representative.

Former Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, is seen as the frontrunner to become the next European Council president and Estonia’s current premier Kaja Kallas could be selected as the High Representative.

Harris gave positive reactions to the signals that Costa and Kallas could be nominated, adding that he “enjoyed” working with Kallas at the European Council, but reiterated that no decision will be made at today’s meeting.

Von der Leyen is a member of the European People’s Party, the grouping that includes Fine Gael which managed to remain the largest group in the European Parliament – giving the German politician significant leverage.

However, Fine Gael’s coalition partners, Fianna Fáil, have been very critical of von der Leyen over her handling of the conflict in Gaza and disagree with her stances on defence policy and the EU.

The Taoiseach said: “Of course, there’d be an opportunity for me to engage with coalition colleagues before the formal European Council meeting, and indeed, before the European Parliament would vote on the nominee, which I would hope will happen in July.

“But there is a process to be run in the processes that European leaders gather, they take stock, they consider the four positions in the round, and then we see if a consensus begins to emerge at that stage.”

Incumbent Fianna Fáil MEPs Billy Kelleher and Barry Andrews told The Journal ahead of the European elections that they would not be supporting Von Der Leyen’s bid for a second term in the Commission.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s four newly-elected MEPs are the only group of Irish politicians in Brussels who have openly backed Von der Leyen’s bid for a second term.

The Taoiseach said: “I think, in fairness to MEPS of all political persuasions and none, the process is that the European Council brings forward a name and then MEPs can accept or reject that name. It’s not as though a list of names go to the European Parliament.

“I know processes can be frustrating at times, but I do think we need to allow the process to play out,” he added.

Commission decision in ‘next few weeks’

Harris said that Fianna Fáil are going to nominate and Cabinet will approve the next Irish commissioner in the “next few weeks”.

He added: “Of course that name needs to be approved by the cabinet. But yes, it is true that the nomination will come from Fianna Fáil. I fully respect that.

“It’s important that we put forward people of high calibre. We have a proud tradition, I think, of sending good people to be European commissioners and that makes a difference in terms of the portfolios and the influence that you can have.”

There is some debate over whether Ursula von der Leyen, if elected to the Presidency again, will request that member states to propose a man and a woman for the Commission position. 

Harris said he had “mixed feelings” over the request and that while he takes gender equality and balance “very seriously”, he added “it is a matter for member states to decide who they wish to put forward as a commissioner”.

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