Hogan's EU post on hold until the top roles sorted

‘Quicker to elect a Pope’ than fill four big EU posts, says Taoiseach

Waiting: Phil Hogan is tipped to retain the agriculture role. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Waiting: Phil Hogan is tipped to retain the agriculture role. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will make no announcement about a possible renewed term for Ireland's outgoing Commissioner Phil Hogan until a raft of big EU jobs are divided up.

EU leaders are likely to meet again inside 10 days as the search for a compromise formula continues to appoint the heads of the European Commission, Council and Central Bank, as well as the EU foreign policy executive, and as discussions also continue among MEPs about the new leader of the European Parliament.

Mr Varadkar was among the leaders who said it would be a very involved and difficult procedure.

"It's quicker to elect the Pope very often than it is to fill these particular positions," Mr Varadkar quipped as he reflected on power struggles between governments and the EU institutions.

He said he would wait especially for the deal on who would replace Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker before announcing whether his old party colleague Mr Hogan would get the nod for another five years in the €300,000-a-year Brussels post.

It is widely speculated Mr Hogan will be re-appointed as he has done well in the agriculture portfolio, which controls 40pc of the EU's annual €160bn budget.

"I'm not going to make that decision until we see who the president of the commission and the president of the council is, because, you know, there's a certain balance to be had," the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar said the importance of the portfolio the Irish nominee would get would be a big factor in his choice.

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"A crucial thing, aside from the person who will be the next commissioner for Ireland, is what portfolio we hold. Needless to say we are going to want to have one that is influential," he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are locked in a struggle over the new commission president. She favours party colleague Manfred Weber, who has the backing of his MEP colleagues in the EPP group, which also includes Fine Gael.

But Mr Macron is not impressed by Mr Weber and also wants to end an informal deal which operated last time, which gave the top job to the person backed by the majority of the Euro MEPs.

Mr Weber's problems are compounded by the EPP's loss of seats in last month's election which means he cannot get a parliamentary majority, the more so since the Liberals and Greens have said they would not support them.

But France and Germany also have front-runners to replace Mario Draghi as head of the European Central Bank. Other countries, notably Spain and Portugal, also want a share of the big jobs.

Brussels diplomats said work would focus on compromise candidates and a share-out formula. "But there are far more demands than jobs - so people must modify their expectations and that will take time," one source said.

Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier of France is cited as a long-shot for the Commission job. That would be good news for Ireland, but his problem is that he is also linked to the EPP group.

The people taking these jobs will have huge influence over the future of the 460 million post-Brexit EU inhabitants, making decisions on everything from internal and external trade to environment, climate control, business competition and foreign relations.

The president of the European Central Bank is appointed for eight years, with influence over interest rates, inflation and the workings of the euro. Efforts have been made to keep this away from political horse-trading and a compromise could end deadlock between France and Germany opening up deal prospects.

Irish Independent

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