Tuesday 13 November 2018

Ahern is 'not in running' for EU President job

Former British PM Tony Blair widely tipped as Bertie's chances of landing top post fade

Tony Blair is more likely than Bertie Ahern to end up as the first President of the European Union
Tony Blair is more likely than Bertie Ahern to end up as the first President of the European Union

RONALD QUINLAN

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern has little chance of becoming the first President of the Council of the European Union, according to informed sources within the EU Commission.

While numerous commentators here have touted Mr Ahern as being a serious contender for the job, over in Brussels it's a different story.

Inquiries by the Sunday Independent saw just two names emerge as being in the running for the prestigious position which will be established in 2009 once the Lisbon Treaty, otherwise known as the Reform Treaty, is ratified.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the current Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean Claude Juncker are the names being bandied about in Brussels as the most likely candidates, according to informed sources at the EU Commission.

This news will hardly be a surprise to the Taoiseach himself given his acute understanding of European politics, which famously saw him negotiate and secure agreement on the EU Constitution in 2004 when Ireland held the presidency of the EU.

While that agreement ultimately failed, Mr Ahern is set to receive the plaudits and the thanks of his European peers once it gains acceptance under the guise of the Lisbon Treaty.

Although he is hugely respected for his skills as a negotiator both in Europe and as a peacemaker in the North, Mr Ahern's chances of becoming the inaugural President of the Council of the EU are hampered severely.

One source at the EU Commission said: "Bertie's lack of language skills leaves him with a huge disadvantage. Compare him with Jean Claude Juncker who speaks three languages -- English, French and German -- with absolute fluency, and three others competently.

"To be fair, the Taoiseach's success in the North and on the constitution translates very well internationally, but I wouldn't hold my breath when it comes to getting the big job in Europe.

"There is a tendency for smaller countries such as Ireland and Denmark to magnify their importance within the EU community. You must remember there are 27 countries in the EU, all of whom believe they command importance which might not reflect the reality." Another source in Brussels echoed this sentiment saying: "My gut reaction is that Mr Ahern will not be the natural choice for the Presidency of the Council. Blair and Juncker are the only names being mentioned as far as I am aware."

Tony Blair appeared to push his own name forward last Friday in relation to the President's job.

Taking questions following a speech at the National University of Singapore, Mr Blair was asked whether, when he next visits the city state, he might do so as European President.

In a coy response, Mr Blair said: "In relation to the question about the presidency of the European Union we will move swiftly on. It's a pity, but that's the way it is. A shortage of time you know!" he quipped.

Mr Blair's candidacy for the new role isn't a foregone conclusion yet however, according to sources at the EU Commission.

"Often the first or second choice for the job tends not to land the job. A lot of horse trading goes on, and an acceptable candidate emerges," one source said.

The same source added that the Taoiseach could have a chance when it comes to another role in Europe, namely Presidency of the European Commission.

Currently held by Jose Manuel Barrosso, the EU Commission President's job will come down for decision in October 2009.

Interestingly, the Taoiseach ruled himself out of the race for the role in 2004, citing his wish to remain on in office here, and a determination to successfully negotiate the EU Constitution.

A less likely route into Europe for Mr Ahern, according to sources, is for him to become a Commissioner.

One source said, "I would see that, and Bertie Ahern would probably see that, as a demotion. It is highly unusual for a head of State to step down into the shoes of a Commissioner. It did happen in the case of former Czech Prime Minister Vladimír Spidla who became the Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner, but there was no precedent for it."

According to EU regulations, the nomination for appointment of EU Commissioners is at the discretion of the Government of the day.

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