Taoiseach warns against ‘instability’ in advance of meeting on EU’s top jobs

Coalition yet to agree on another term for Ursula von der Leyen as European Commission president

Taoiseach Simon Harris said he hoped agreement will be reached over the identity of the next European Commission president so that 'a vacuum' does not emerge. Photograph: Alessandro Della Valle/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Taoiseach Simon Harris has yet to secure support of his Coalition allies for Ireland to back Ursula von der Leyen for a second term as European Commission president.

The German politician is the only serious name on the table in advance of Monday’s informal European Council meeting in Brussels, the first such gathering since recent European elections.

Monday’s gathering will start the process of filling the top EU jobs and Mr Harris said he hoped a consensus will emerge quickly.

“I don’t think now is the time for instability or a vacuum at European level,” he said.


Dr von der Leyen was the lead candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP), the winner of the parliamentary elections, to which Mr Harris’s Fine Gael is affiliated.

Before Monday’s informal meeting, with no decisions expected, Mr Harris said he was happy to “let the process unfold”.

“We will then have a formal council meeting at the end of the month and of course, there’ll an opportunity between now and then to further engage with my Coalition colleagues,” he said.

Dr von der Leyen’s visit to Israel, and the unqualified support she offered its government, in the immediate aftermath of the October 7th attack that led to the war in Gaza, sparked a backlash against the German politician in Ireland.

Several of Ireland’s 14 MEPs, including from Coalition party Fianna Fáil, have said they will not vote for Dr von der Leyen if her name comes before the European Parliament as a nominee to be commission president.

In advance of an informal dinner on Monday evening, European Council president Charles Michel reportedly attempted to bring into play alternative candidates to the outgoing German president.

His office described as “fake news and lies” a Politico report that he approached Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for the commission job. Amid claims Mr Michel tried to keep Dr von der Leyen from attending Monday’s dinner, the EU’s 13 EPP leaders, including Mr Harris, have agreed to meet beforehand to co-ordinate their strategy.

Other names in the mix for top jobs include ex-Portuguese prime minister António Costa, a Social Democrat, as European Council president and Estonia’s liberal prime minister Kaja Kallas as EU foreign policy chief. A return of the EPP’s Roberta Metsola is considered likely.

At a meeting of world leaders in Switzerland, German chancellor Olaf Scholz indicated a second term for Dr von der Leyen was likely.

Echoing Mr Harris, he said: “Everyone very much agrees that we will quickly decide all these questions in one go.”

In Switzerland neither French president Emmanuel Macron nor Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni could be drawn on their desired candidate.

Ireland’s commissioner Mairead McGuinness said Dr von der Leyen should be “judged by her record in the round” as she defended her EPP colleague.

In relation to Gaza, Ms McGuinness said she has always expressed the Irish people’s views at the commission. She defended Dr von der Leyen, saying she is “extremely strong on humanitarian aid and is working with others to try to secure a ceasefire and permanent peace and two-state solution”.

“I do not doubt her credentials on this topic at all.”

Ms McGuinness said the “big question” for people with concerns about Dr von der Leyen is who the alternative is.

“This is a president of the commission who people know and, indeed, in Ireland people were extremely supportive of her up to the horrors of what is unfolding in Gaza, and I can understand Irish people are deeply concerned about that. But she should also be judged by her record in the round.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times