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Simon Harris: ‘new kid on the block’ is seen as an ‘unknown quantity’ in Brussels

Whistle-stop series of meetings a dry run for the Taoiseach ahead of EU summit next week

As he made the rounds on his first foray on to the international diplomatic stage as Taoiseach, the perception of Simon Harris in Brussels is largely as someone who is seen as an unknown quantity.

The new leader met European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday afternoon, before heading to Warsaw to have dinner with a group of other EU leaders.

The meeting with Dr von der Leyen was down in the commission president’s diary as a fairly standard introductory sit-down, without a set agenda.

Speaking afterwards, Harris said the pair discussed Ireland’s plans to recognise the state of Palestine, a new EU overhaul on toughening the asylum system, agricultural policy, the war in Ukraine and relations with the UK. The two spoke for a little over half an hour in what a commission source described as a “very friendly” meeting.


The 37-year-old Fine Gael leader is viewed as an “unknown quantity” by the Brussels bubble, according to several officials. “He is the new kid on the block,” another long-time Irish official said.

As a minister, he would have been over and back to the EU institutions for meetings, and when in the health portfolio co-ordinated with counterparts on Covid-19 during the pandemic.

The fact that Harris is being advised by Phil Hogan, the former EU trade commissioner who is still well-regarded within the Brussels circuit, is something that has been clocked by observers, one EU official said.

During his brief visit, the new Taoiseach also made time to meet Manfred Weber, the German MEP who heads up the European People’s Party (EPP), the centre right grouping that includes Fine Gael. The largest group in the parliament and around the summit table, the EPP will be an important constituency to cultivate connections within.

Harris starts at a time when the business of policymaking has slowed down, and the political manoeuvring over the shape of the next commission is starting to ramp up. Von der Leyen is seeking a second term as president and the coming months will see plenty of back room horse-trading over the allocation of EU commissioner portfolios.

Not long after the meeting with the commission president, Harris went to the airport for a flight to Warsaw to meet several EU leaders, including European Council president Charles Michel, followed by an informal dinner with the leaders of Poland, Spain, Greece, Finland, Estonia and Luxembourg.

The whistle-stop series of engagements served as somewhat of a dry run in advance of the full summit of EU leaders next week, where leaders from other countries will be looking to get the measure of the new Irish leader.