Finance Minister, Paschal Donohoe, has landed the prestige job of chairing the “Eurogroup” of 19 finance ministers which use the EU single currency.
The position, which runs in parallel with his job as Irish Finance Minister means he will chair all the meetings of the EU’s 19 richest member states, a job with the potential to wield a lot of influence.
The first appointee to this post created in 2004 was Jean Claude Juncker, who used it very skillfully and went on to head the EU Commission.
He will take over from the outgoing president Mario Centeno on July 13 and will serve a two and half year mandate until the end of 2022.
Mr Donohoe said he was honoured by his appointment and planned to build an "inclusive and transparent" Eurogroup.
"As President, I will seek to build bridges amongst all members of the Euro Area, and to engage actively with all member states, to ensure that we have a consensus-based approach to the recovery of our economies and our societies," Donohoe said in a statement after he was elected for a two and a half year term.
He said his immediate priority would be "to chart a common way forward on building the European recovery, strengthening the Eurozone economy, and promoting sustainable and inclusive growth for Member States and their citizens."
Chairing the Eurogroup can be of benefit to Ireland as Brexit enters its final and treacherous phase. The election comes as EU governments fight over the division of €750bn in post-coronavirus aid and EU single currency membership rules on borrowing and debt are being re-written to suit an economy recovering from coronavirus devastation.
Mr Donohoe was backed by the powerful EPP party grouping the decision by the 19 EU countries which use the Euro. Ministers met by videolink to cast a secret ballot.
Mr Donohoe was opposed by Spanish finance minister, Nadia Calvino, and Luxembourg’s minister, Pierre Gramega. In the first round of voting nobody got the necessary 10 votes.
The lowest scorer, the Luxembourg minister then dropped out, and his backers were left to decide between the two remaining candidates. Brussels diplomats believe Mr Donohoe “came through the middle” in this second ballot.
Paschal Donohoe has presented himself as “a small country compromise candidate.” His pitch was that Ireland suffered through an EU-IMF bailout and sees the need for a blend of careful management – appealing to the “frugal North” – and requirements for economic stimulus to reassure less conservative southern EU states.
Mr Donohoe has also stressed his experience of EU meeting rooms since he was appointed EU affairs minister in 2013. He first got to know EU economic and finance wrangling in 2016 when he became Public Expenditure Minister moving to Finance Minister in 2017.
Speaking at Government Buildings on Thursday night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin paid tribute to Mr Donohoe's "outstanding" achievement, saying it was a "great win for Ireland".
"It's no mean achievement to emerge from such a group so effectively," the Fianna Fáil leader said.
He said the message of Mr Donohoe's campaign of being a "bridge-builder" was the "telling strategy". He said he would have his hands full as it was a very challenging moment for Europe due to the fallout from the Covid-19 crisis and the ongoing Brexit saga.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Mr Donohoe's victory was important for Ireland as it meant the country will "be in the room" when it comes to discussions on the future of the euro.
Mr Donohoe said he would not have been elected without the support of the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party and in particularly the "personal contacts" of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste across Europe.
"At all levels across government, supported by our civil servants, supported by our diplomats we went out to deliver something that we believed could matter for Ireland and could matter for Europe," he said.
Mr Donohoe said it had been made clear to him that he could not take his eye off preparations for the Budget in October.
The Finance Minister said that he would continue to advocate for Ireland's low corporation tax rate despite the protests of other EU member states.
He claimed that colleagues in the EU understood Ireland's position on maintaining the 12.5pc corporation tax rate.
"Anybody who voted for me knew what Ireland's national position is on many key issues and they voted for me in the full knowledge of that," he said.
Mr Donohoe said the first priority of his new role would be to reach agreement on the EU-wide Covid-19 recovery fund.