France wants Ireland to lobby for EU agricultural portfolio


FRANCE IS pressing Ireland to lobby for the agricultural portfolio in the next European Commission in a bid to protect EU farm subsidies.

French and Irish diplomats have had “informal contacts” on the issue before Taoiseach Brian Cowen chooses his Irish candidate to fill the top EU job.

Paris is eager to have a Cap-friendly candidate in the commission post ahead of a major review of the EU budget and the common agricultural policy next year. It has been lobbying in support of Romania’s bid to secure the important EU job, which controls the EU’s €55 billion Cap budget, but there is a growing realisation that Bucharest will not get the job following the suspension of EU farm funds last year to Romania due to irregularities.

“We would like a Cap-friendly commissioner and Ireland is certainly one of those countries,” said a French official yesterday.

“It is also true that France would certainly prefer an Irish commissioner in the agriculture job than an Irish person in the internal market job, as is the case now,” she said. The French official would not comment on whether any talks had taken place between Paris and Dublin but Irish sources suggested they have.

“It is true there have been some informal contacts between French and Irish officials over the last few weeks,” one Irish source told The Irish Times.

Agriculture is considered a medium-to-high level job in the EU executive, although its importance will be boosted considerably in the next five year commission term due to the upcoming review of the EU budget and the Cap.There is also a new push to finalise a world trade deal next year, a move that will have critical implications for Europe’s farming communities.

Ireland has traditionally valued the agriculture job in the commission and former Fianna Fáil politician Ray MacSharry held the post in the 1990s. But some Irish officials in Brussels have advised the Government to lobby for the research post, which has a five year research and development budget worth €50 billion.

Commission president José Manuel Barroso makes the final decision on the award of portfolios within the EU executive and he has consistently said this will be done on merit.

Therefore, a decision by Mr Cowen to push for the agriculture post in the next commission may require him to nominate an Irish candidate with some experience of the farming sector.

Front-runners for the Irish nomination include former parliament president Pat Cox, Irish MEP Pat “the Cope” Gallagher and Ireland’s current nominee at the European Court of Auditors Maire Geoghegan-Quinn.

However, none of the candidates have ever served as minister for agriculture. Tánaiste Mary Coughlan could be a strong candidate for the agricultural post, although it is expected Mr Cowen will not appoint a sitting TD to avoid a byelection.

French support for an Irish candidate for the agricultural post could boost Ireland’s chances of landing the job. But states in favour of Cap reform, particularly Britain, would lobby Mr Barroso against an Irish candidate.