Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness has been picked to be the next Irish commissioner following the resignation of Phil Hogan, and will be given the financial services portfolio.
“Mrs McGuinness has significant political experience on EU issues having been an MEP since 2004, and currently holding the post of first vice-president of the European Parliament,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said as she made the announcement.
“This experience is crucial in carrying forward the EU’s financial sector policy agenda and ensuring it supports and strengthens the commission’s key priority, notably the twin green and digital transition.”
As vice-president of the European Parliament since 2014, Ms McGuinness has a high profile in Brussels and was widely tipped for the role. The trade portfolio will be assumed by Latvia's Valdis Dombrovskis, a former prime minister and commissioner since 2014 who had been caretaking the position since Mr Hogan stepped down amid controversy over his breaking of Covid-19 self-isolation rules in Ireland.
The Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union portfolio that Ms McGuinness will assume was previously part of Mr Dombrovskis’ brief, and involves leading the commission’s banking and finance reforms.
In a statement, Ms McGuinness said the portfolio “cuts across all policy areas” and described it as “fundamental to European citizens, businesses, SMEs, and how the EU recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The appointment is subject to scrutiny and a vote in the European Parliament. The process is expected to be expedited, as European institutions are keen to settle the issue quickly and ensure stability amid the pandemic, its economic fallout, and uncertainty over whether a trade relationship can be agreed with Britain by the end of the year.
The decision came after Dr von der Leyen interviewed Ms McGuinness and fellow nominee, the former European Investment Bank vice-president Andrew McDowell. The Irish Government put forward the two names after Dr von der Leyen requested both “a woman and a man” be nominated.
Dr von der Leyen described both as “excellent candidates” with “experience of EU matters, of course from different perspectives”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin welcomed the appointment of Ms McGuinness to the “important” portfolio.
“I’ve no doubt whatsoever that she will serve with distinction and will play a key role in the work of the commission,” said Mr Martin.
Ireland is viewed in Brussels to have fared well in the reshuffle, following speculation that Dr von der Leyen could opt to allocate the new Irish commissioner a less high-profile portfolio as a reprimand to Dublin for putting unwelcome political pressure on her to sack Mr Hogan.
While the choice of Ms McGuinness was broadly welcomed, the allocation of the financial services brief to Ireland was criticised, and some MEPs suggested that the Republic’s record on taxation and finance would come under scrutiny.
With Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe currently serving as president of the Eurogroup, “key financial posts are now in Irish hands” said German Green MEP Sven Giegold, warning that Irish financial policies cannot “cannot serve as an example for Europe”.
Financial services is a significant brief that involves working on the creation of a single market for capital in the EU, and leading reforms of the financial and banking industry aimed to strengthen stability and avoid repeats of past economic crises.
The brief has an overlap with the EU’s landmark plan to borrow €750 billion on international markets to finance economic recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic. It will also be significant in the context of the challenges posed to the City of London by Brexit, and the relocation of some financial services to EU hubs including Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Dublin.