Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has finished in joint first-place in the opening round of voting for the post of European Ombudsman, receiving just under a third of votes cast.
With none of the six candidates achieving a majority, a second vote will take place tomorrow, as had been expected.
However Ms O’ Reilly’s strong performance in the first round surprised even her strongest supporters, who had widely expected Ms O’ Reilly to finish behind the two favourites for the position - Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, and Germany MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt.
They are members of the largest political groupings in the European Parliament, the European People's Party and Socialists & Democrats group, respectively, though neither is an official candidate.
Ms O’ Reilly and Ms Oomen-Ruijten finished in joint first place with 203 votes .
The move to a second vote is widely expected to favour Ms O Reilly, who is expected to pick up some of the votes of the lowest- ranked candidates.
If one of the two highest-ranked MEP’s is removed in a further round, Ms O’ Reilly could also attract the votes of their supporters.
The position of Ombudsman became vacant following the decision of outgoing ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros to step down after almost a decade in the role.
Ms O’ Reilly has gained the support of a number of MEP’s who believe that the role should go to an independent candidate, rather than an MEP. Ms O’ Reilly’s well-received presentation at the European Parliament’s petitions committee last month, as well as a number of informal presentations to the European Parliament’s various political groupings last week in Brussels bolstered her support.
A former journalist, Emily O’ Reilly has been Ireland’s ombudsman since 2003.
The European Ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints about the European Institutions and various EU agencies. The position attracts a €248,000 annual salary.