Maire Geoghegan-Quinn gets French government’s highest honour

Award in recognition of ‘remarkable contribution to the European project’

Maire Geoghegan-Quinn’s five year term as commissioner for research, innovation and science comes to an end in November. File photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

Maire Geoghegan-Quinn’s five year term as commissioner for research, innovation and science comes to an end in November. File photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

 

Ireland’s outgoing EU Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn has been awarded the Légion d’Honneur by French president Francois Hollande, the highest honour that can be bestowed by the French government.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn (64) will be presented with the medal by the French Secretary of State for Higher Education and Research Geneviève Fioraso at a ceremony in Brussels on Friday afternoon.

The award was made in recognition of Ms Geoghegan-Quinn’s “remarkable contribution to the European project” according to the French government.

Ms Fioraso said that the decision to name Ms Geoghegan-Quinn as Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur was due to the recognition of her major role in the set-up of Horizon 2020, the EU’s €80 billion programme for science, research and innovation.

“This programme will be a central driver for the economic recovery process in Europe as it will create both high-skilled jobs and new goods and services,” she said.

She also noted that the Irish commissioner had won the support of the 28 EU governments for the Horizon 2020 programme “at a time of tight budgetary constraint.”

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn’s five year term as commissioner for research, innovation and science comes to an end in November.

Prior to her appointment as EU commissioner by Brian Cowen’s government in 2009, she was Ireland’s representative at the European Court of Auditors for ten years. This followed a lengthy career in Irish politics, during which time she served as minister for justice, minister for tourism, transport and communications, and minister for European affairs.

In 1979, she was the first woman to be appointed as a cabinet minister since the foundation of the State.

While Ms Geoghegan-Quinn has maintained a low-profile domestically during her time in Brussels, she has presided over one of the EU’s more dynamic portfolios. It was one of the few areas of EU spending to receive an increase in budget when negotiations for the EU’s seven-year budget plan were agreed last year during the Irish presidency. Over the next seven years, the €80 billion programme will disburse funding to universities and individual research teams across Europe.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s commissioner-designate Phil Hogan will appear before the European Parliament’s agriculture committee next Thursday morning in Brussels as part of a series of committee hearings into the new Commissioners. Mr Hogan will be questioned on various aspects of EU agricultural policy, as well as his political background during the three-hour hearing.

Pending approval by the European Parliament, the new college of commissioners will take up their positions on November 1st.

Previous Irish recipients of the Legion d’Honneur include human rights activist Mary Lawlor former Attorney General and EU Commissioner Peter Sutherland, Pat Hickey, president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, and former minister for foreign affairs David Andrews.