Hogan nomination 'key to agriculture portfolio in Europe'
IRELAND is in the running to get the EU Commission agriculture portfolio and the nomination of Environment Minister Phil Hogan will enhance the chances of getting it.
The Agriculture Commissioner controls 40pc of the €150bn annual budget. Securing an Irish nominee would enhance the country's political clout within the EU system at many levels. Against that, the appointment of another nominee with lesser farmer and rural credentials, such as outgoing Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, would not help Dublin's case.
The name most associated with the Irish Commissioner's post is that of Fine Gael's Phil Hogan. The Environment Minister's nomination could enhance Ireland's chances of getting the farm spending portfolio as he has experience in a closely related portfolio, which overlaps on farming issues, and long experience of general politics and administration.
Political sources in Dublin last night insisted that the EU Commission job has been "flagged for Fine Gael" since the FG-Labour coalition talks in late February and early March 2011. This flatly contradicts claims from Labour sources that it was not already given to FG and could go to a Labour nominee such as Mr Gilmore.
Brussels diplomats believe Ireland is well placed to take the farm spending portfolio, last held by an Irish nominee more than 20 years ago. Ray MacSharry served with distinction over 1989-1992.
Horse-trading on who gets what in the new EU administration should begin from next weekend after leaders are expected to decide on the new Commission President on Thursday. EU diplomats increasingly believe that Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg will overcome intense British opposition and take the post.
Speculation that Taoiseach Enda Kenny might emerge as a compromise candidate for the European Commission president if Mr Juncker was blocked has now abated. But Mr Kenny's candidature for another EU post, permanent chairman of the EU leaders' summits, remains a live prospect, though the Taoiseach has insisted that he does not want either post.
There will be 27 other members of the new EU Commission and the reality is that there are few "real jobs" with a budget and/or direct powers. Agriculture is a major post as it still accounts for about €65bn per year in spending.
The as yet un-named Irish nominee, along with a nominee from some of the former East Bloc states who retain a keen interest in farm spending, are among those mentioned for the agriculture portfolio.
"It's early days but much will depend on the calibre of the person nominated and their perceived suitability and experience to gear them for the challenge," one Brussels diplomat told the Irish Independent.