Kenny stands by his man as new EU leader demands more female commissioners
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has defended his decision to nominate Phil Hogan as Ireland's new EU Commissioner - despite real pressure from Brussels to send a woman in order to secure a top post for Ireland.
Incoming EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has bluntly warned that if he does not get more female nominees, he will give all the best jobs to the few women who have been nominated.
"A commission without women is, in my view, neither legitimate nor credible. That is why I am continuing to insist with several heads of state that they send me a female candidate instead," the commission president said.
Nine of the 28 outgoing EU commissioners are women, including Ireland's Maire Geoghegan-Quinn. But so far there have only been four women nominees and the new president has warned that he will do his own bit of positive discrimination if he does not get a better response from the member governments.
"If, after this, there is still an insufficient number of women, I will need to redress the balance through the portfolio allocation. Female commissioners will then certainly have very good chances of landing an important portfolio," the former Luxembourg prime minister said in an interview with Austria's Der Kurier newspaper.
But a spokesman for the Taoiseach strongly defended the decision to nominate Mr Hogan, the former Environment Minister, and brushed aside any suggestion of a late change. "(Mr)Hogan is Ireland's nominee as commissioner. He played a very important role during Ireland's recent EU Presidency and is eminently qualified for the post," Mr Kenny's spokesman said.
Fine Gael sources argued that many EU countries have yet to name their commissioner and Mr Juncker was addressing his remarks towards them - not at Ireland, whose outgoing commissioner is a woman. But senior Brussels diplomats dismissed these suggestions.
"President Juncker's comments were addressed to all member governments. The lack of women nominees concerns all countries and it will be a factor in the competition for a heavy-hitting portfolio," one official told the Irish Independent.
Matters will come to a head when Mr Kenny attends an EU leaders' summit in Brussels next Saturday. This is expected to decide two key posts, EU High Representative on Foreign Policy and the permanent representative of the EU leaders' summits, which could clear the way for other appointments within the following week.
Ireland is still battling for a commission senior portfolio - ideally agriculture or regional policy. Brussels officials concede that Mr Hogan is a credible candidate for agriculture but he is up against the existing EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos of Romania, and Spain's commission nominee, Miguel Arias Canete, who is a former agriculture minister.
While there are 28 members of the EU policy-guiding commission, there are fewer than 10 'real jobs' with direct powers and/or a sizeable budget. Agriculture still accounts for one-third of the EU's €150bn per year budget and is a pivotal post within the entire EU apparatus.
Mr Juncker has warned that he must have his team in place by a deadline of November 1.