Doubts persist over Coveney seeking nomination for EU role

Two names expected to be forwarded with portfolio depending on ‘competences’

 Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: with Mairead McGuinness and Frances Fitzgerald, he is one of three potential candidates for the role of EU commissioner. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: with Mairead McGuinness and Frances Fitzgerald, he is one of three potential candidates for the role of EU commissioner. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Wrangling between Dublin and Brussels, as well as within Government,  continued on Wednesday over the appointment of Ireland’s next European commissioner.

Sources said there was continued uncertainty over whether Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney would seek the nomination and which portfolio would be allocated to the new Irish commissioner. Government sources admit they have all but given up hope of retaining the powerful trade portfolio.

A Government spokeswoman confirmed the three party leaders in the coalition government were in contact on the issue throughout the evening, but no decision had been made about any nominees late on Tuesday night.

The issue was not discussed at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, though Micheál Martin told Ministers before the meeting broke up that there had not been agreement – contrary to some reports – that the Government would forward two names to Brussels as requested. However, senior political sources said they expected two names, a man and woman, would be supplied to Brussels.

The three potential candidates are Mr Coveney and the two Fine Gael MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Frances Fitzgerald. Government sources say Brussels has expressed admiration for Ms McGuinness though she is less popular among Fine Gael Ministers than Ms Fitzgerald. Sources also say that Mr Coveney may be reluctant to put his name forward if he believes he would not get the nomination. In this case, the Coalition would have to find another man willing to be nominated, but in the expectation he would not be appointed.

Preferred choice

The Irish Times understands that in the scenario in which two candidates are put forward by Dublin, commission president Ursula von der Leyen would likely speak to both of them and indicate her preferred choice to the Government. Only after this would she make her final decision on what portfolios to allocate, according to the procedure that was followed when she appointed her cabinet last year.

Dr von der Leyen has asked Ireland to put forward the names of a woman and a man, in accordance with her priority of pursuing gender balance in the commission.

What role in the EU Commission Ireland’s replacement for Phil Hogan will get depends on the “competences” of the names put forward, the executive has said.

“The ball is in the court of the Irish authorities to submit names for possible commissioners of Irish nationality,” commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said. “The matter of gender balance is very important to President von der Leyen. We have been saying this and she has been saying this very clearly and very loudly since she took office.

Scrutiny of candidate

“As to the decision regarding portfolios, the president will make that decision once she has the name on the table and that will depend of course on the competences and all the elements that she has at her disposal at that moment.”

Left-wing MEPs in the European Parliament have publicly called for Ireland to put forward a woman to be the next commissioner.

Once the Irish candidate is decided, they are subject to scrutiny by the European Parliament.

First, they will need to submit a declaration of financial interests, which will be scrutinised by the parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee. The candidate will then face scrutiny from the committee that works on their brief (in the case of the trade portfolio, this would be the parliament’s Committee on International Trade).

The MEPs will invite the candidate to respond to written questions, and then subject them to a three-hour public hearing. After that, the committee will draw up an evaluation of the candidate and send it to the president of the parliament: candidates have withdrawn in the past when this has been negative.

Finally, the whole parliament will vote on the new commission. If approved by parliament, the commission is then formally appointed by a qualified majority of the national leaders of the European Council.