News John Downing

Saturday 20 September 2014

Enda plays a blinder as he offers to act as go-between for UK and Brussels

Published 28/06/2014 | 02:30

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"BREXIT" is one of those ugly jargon words which from time to time come out of political processes generally and the EU in particular.

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It is supposed to sum up the danger that our nearest neighbour will not be able to overcome its recurring angst about the European Union and is inevitably on course to leave sooner rather than later. Such a drastic move would have big implications for Ireland.

In recent days we have been reading screaming British media headlines about the appointment of a man who allegedly has brandy for breakfast making "Brexit inevitable". Well, one more time Britain has lost the EU argument, and Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg will next autumn take over as president of the policy-guiding EU Commission.

There is no doubting that the appointment decision, put to a vote for the first time at a leaders' summit, does compound difficulties around Britain's relationship with the EU. A British EU exit may have been made more likely by yesterday's outcome – but it is still far from inevitable.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's staunch opposition to Juncker's EU politics was also fuelled by the way the latter was initially chosen, by Parliament and not by the national governments. But it was also overwhelmingly about Britain's domestic politics.

Cameron is haunted both by increasingly eurosceptic MPs in his Conservative Party and the rising UK Independence Party, which wants Britain out of the EU. He has pledged to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU and curb Brussels's powers, before holding a referendum on EU membership in 2017, provided he wins re-election next year.

It is a high-risk strategy which could easily lead to "Brexit". But it could also lead to a much-changed EU with Britain sitting slightly more comfortably within it.

Germany is keen to talk about reforms, the Nordic countries and Netherlands want Britain to stay. Things can be worked out.

Credit where it is due: Enda Kenny has played a good hand in this matter, speaking his mind in backing Juncker, but staying well back from the conflict.

In Brussels he told reporters that he was offering Ireland's help in forging a better relationship between Britain and Juncker's new EU Commission.

It is a practical proposition with considerable merit.

But Enda Kenny has other EU duties closer to Ireland's national interests which require urgent attention.

As Ireland's outgoing Commissioner, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, pointed out yesterday, the Taoiseach should get on and make Ireland's nomination to the EU Commission.

It may also suit his party's needs to act swiftly and name the person before a new Labour leader arrives in situ and perhaps makes demands about the post. Smart money remains on Environment Minister Phil Hogan who has the political credentials to claim a big portfolio, perhaps even agriculture.

But word from Brussels is that women are in short supply for Juncker's new executive team. There may be grounds for the Taoiseach considering sending a woman to copperfasten a good portfolio for Ireland.

In that eventuality, the name of Fine Gael MEP, Mairead McGuinness, with 10 years at the European Parliament and a background in farm journalism, stands out.

But whoever gets the post, an early decision is now vital.

Irish Independent

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