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File image of Taoiseach Simon Harris, who will travel to Brussels today for an informal meeting of EU leaders Alamy Stock Photo
European Parliament

Taoiseach Simon Harris to visit Brussels as EU leaders meet informally to discuss top jobs

Harris said it is ‘imperative’ that the ‘European Council complete our work on the appointments to the EU Institutions as quickly as possible’.

EU LEADERS, INCLUDING Taoiseach Simon Harris, will gather in Brussels today to thrash out over dinner how to distribute the bloc’s top jobs.

It appears that Ursula von der Leyen is on track for a second term as European Commission president.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme yesterday, Fine Gael member and EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said Von der Leyen was assured of the votes of the four Fine Gael politicians elected as MEPs last week.

However, it is unclear how Ireland’s other ten MEPs will vote.

As well as voting in four Fine Gael MEPs, the Irish electorate also voted in four Fianna Fáil MEPs, two Sinn Féin MEPs, two Independents and an Independent Ireland MEP.

Speaking ahead of today’s informal meeting, Harris remarked that Europe faces “many challenges and great uncertainties”, such as war in Ukraine and climate change. 

He said these challenges makes it “imperative” that the “European Council complete our work on the appointments to the EU Institutions as quickly as possible”.

Top jobs to be discussed

Far-right gains in the EU-wide elections, which triggered snap polls and political upheaval in France, appear to have focused minds around the positions at the bloc’s helm – negotiated among its members with an eye to geographic and political balance.

While leaders were expected to formally make their choices known at a  27-28 June summit, a consensus already appears to be emerging.

“I believe things can move forward efficiently. At least that is my wish, and that will be my frame of mind on Monday,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at the end of the G7 summit in Italy, where he held talks with both German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and von der Leyen.

Scholz sent a similar message, telling ARD television that “a political majority is coming together” and that “things could be decided fast.”

Monday’s meeting kicks off at 6:00 pm (5pm Irish time) in von der Leyen’s presence– but the commission chief will leave before dinner, when leaders are to tackle the matter of top jobs.

Von der Leyen’s European People’s Party (EPP), of which Fine Gael is a member, was the biggest winner from the EU parliament elections, cementing the German conservative’s bid for five more years helming the executive body of the world’s second-largest economy.

The other roles to be decided are: president of the European Council, which represents member states and is currently filled by Charles Michel; and the “high representative” – the EU’s foreign policy chief – currently Josep Borrell.

The second group in parliament, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), have their sights set on the Council position – with Antonio Costa, Portugal’s 62-year-old former prime minister, seen as frontrunner.

Costa resigned after becoming embroiled in a corruption probe — but the case has since appeared to come apart, and diplomats suggest it is unlikely to stand in his way.

The high representative position could go to Kaja Kallas, 46, current premier of Estonia and an outspoken Kremlin critic – in a strong signal to the EU’s east.

A fourth job is in play: that of European Parliament president, decided by the legislature, not the leaders. It is likely to return the incumbent, the EPP’s Roberta Metsola, 45, for another 2.5-year term.

Macron and Scholz weakened

To secure the nod from EU leaders, the 65-year-old von der Leyen needs support from a “qualified majority” of 15 out of 27 countries, covering at least 65 percent of the bloc’s population.

A dozen leaders come from her EPP political grouping – but she also needs to win over Macron, from the centrist Renew Europe group, and Scholz of the S&D.

Both leaders of the Franco-German axis at the heart of the European Union have emerged weakened after being beaten by far-right parties in this month’s polls.

Most spectacularly in France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) trounced the party of the president, who now faces the prospect of the RN’s leader – the 28-year-old TikTok-friendly Jordan Bardella – potentially becoming his prime minister.

Scholz meanwhile is resisting calls to also call snap elections since his party scored its worst-ever EU vote result, behind the far-right AfD and, in first place, the opposition CDU-CSU bloc.

Conversely, the elections strengthened the hand of Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, who diplomats suggest may want to let the dust settle in the new EU parliament – where her far-right party’s grouping gained seats and may yet gain more – and negotiate accordingly.

Parliament hurdle

If, as expected, von der Leyen ultimately pockets enough leaders’ votes, she can set about choosing her commissioners – drawn from each of the EU member countries with consideration for gender balance and political affiliation.

But she will have one more hurdle to pass.

The new European Parliament has to approve leaders’ picks and proposed commissioners.

Most lawmakers from the EPP, which holds 190 seats in the incoming 720-seat parliament, will endorse von der Leyen – but she will need support from elsewhere to secure a majority.

That would likely come from the other mainstream political families, the S&D and Renew, or from the Greens – but von der Leyen has also been covering her bases by courting Meloni, on the hard right.

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Author
Diarmuid Pepper and AFP
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