Tuesday 20 August 2019

McGuinness could land a top EU job when it's next on table

Mairead McGuinness. Photo: Mark Condren
Mairead McGuinness. Photo: Mark Condren
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness's re-election as vice-president of the European Parliament puts her in a strong position to become president of the chamber in two-and-a-half years' time.

Ms McGuinness was the first of 14 vice-presidents elected last night after MEPs earlier voted Italian socialist David Sassoli as the parliamentary president until 2022.

Mr Sassoli was elected as part of the deal hammered out by EU leaders at a marathon three-day summit in Brussels earlier this week.

As part of that agreement, the presidency of the parliament is due to be handed over to a representative from the European People's Party (EPP), Fine Gael's EU grouping, when Mr Sassoli's term ends.

While this is currently expected to go to Manfred Weber, a failed candidate for the European Commission presidency, Irish sources in Brussels suggested Ms McGuinness could now go for it, given her strong position in the continental legislature.

Her election as first vice-president means that she is, in effect, the most senior EPP figure in the new parliament.

"Mairead is very liked," said one well-placed source. "She wouldn't have been elected as first vice-president if she wasn't liked.

"The expectation from Weber's people is that the position goes to Weber - the deal, however, is that the position goes to the EPP."

Ms McGuinness said she was humbled by the reappointment: "I am truly humbled by the size of the support I have received from my colleagues across the parliament in different political groupings, particularly given that over 60pc of MEPs are new this term.

"Being firm and fair is the hallmark of the way in which I operate and I will continue to do that in this new parliament."

Meanwhile, the president-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was in Strasbourg yesterday to meet with MEPs ahead of the vote on her election to the presidency in two weeks.

She was reported to have expressed her support for the EU's position on Brexit and the Irish backstop, which the next British prime minister may seek to remove from the Withdrawal Agreement.

With Boris Johnson on course to take over in No 10 Downing Street later this month, an Irish EU source claimed Ms Von der Leyen would adopt a tough stance when it comes to negotiations with the UK government.

"I have no doubt from what I've been hearing that she will be more than capable of dealing with Boris," said the source.

"She is quite charming. I don't think the Brits will find a softer approach from her than they would have received from Juncker, who really did his best to get a deal with [outgoing prime minister Theresa] May."

While Ms Von der Leyen was little-known outside of Germany before the announcement of her nomination on Tuesday, a senior Irish Government source said she was well-known to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

"They rate her highly," the source said.

Ms Von der Leyen was nominated by EU leaders on Tuesday as part of the so-called 'top jobs package' that will see Charles Michel, the outgoing Belgian prime minister, become president of the European Council, while Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is poised to become European Central Bank president.

Irish Independent

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