European leaders set to back Ursula von der Leyen for second term

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath tipped for nomination as Ireland’s EU commissioner

EU leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss the European Commission's top jobs, including that of president. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet

European leaders are set to back Ursula von der Leyen for a second term as the head of the European Commission, following a push to settle on their pick for the powerful position quickly.

Taoiseach Simon Harris said there was a “consensus” emerging among national leaders of the 27 EU countries to get behind Ms von der Leyen for another five years as president of the commission.

Leaders met in Brussels on Monday evening to kick off negotiations over who will be put forward for several high-profile roles at the top of the EU. Ms von der Leyen is expected to secure the support of national leaders, following which her nomination for a second term would need to be approved by a majority of MEPs in a European Parliament vote. The Irish Government is expected to support her, though several Irish MEPs, including all the Fianna Fáil MEPs, have said they will not vote for her.

There has been a concerted push following the recent European elections to settle the question of who will be the next commission president sooner rather than later. “I don’t think there will be any gratitude from Irish citizens or European citizens if politicians here in Brussels are talking for weeks on end about who is going to do what,” Mr Harris said on his way into the meeting.


A formal vote among the leaders to back Ms von der Leyen as their pick for commission president will likely only take place at a full two-day summit later next week.

Meanwhile, the Government is expected to make a decision on who it plans to nominate as Ireland’s next EU commissioner shortly, possibly as early as the coming days.

While Government Buildings remains tight-lipped, most speculation within Government circles is focused on Minister for Finance Michael McGrath as the likely nominee.

The nomination of someone with such a senior political rank would increase the chances of a substantial portfolio, it is believed. Senior sources say there is some urgency in proceeding with the nomination as horse-trading over jobs is already well under way in Brussels.

In accordance with an agreement struck between the party leaders at the beginning of the Coalition’s term in 2020, the appointment will be Fianna Fáil’s to make. Mr McGrath’s name is the one most frequently mentioned around Government as the likely nominee.

Assuming Mr McGrath leaves Government immediately, it would mean that a vacancy arises for a new minister for finance just weeks before the summer economic statement – which sets out the budget parameters – and less than four months before the budget itself, the last before the general election.

With Government finances in a strong position, Ministers and backbenchers expect a large giveaway budget to set them up for the election campaign, though Mr McGrath – and his Fine Gael colleague, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe – have repeatedly warned of the need to temper expectations of a pre-election spending splurge.

As well as discussing who EU leaders will choose as their pick for commission president, talks were also under way on Monday evening to divvy up who will be tapped to take over as the next EU foreign policy envoy and president of the European Council.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times