Thursday 22 August 2019

Taoiseach criticised as EU leaders deadlocked

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Pool
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Pool

Hugh O'Connell in Brussels

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of putting political interests in Europe ahead of Ireland amid an ongoing deadlock over who should fill the EU's top jobs.

As European Union leaders meet for a third day in Brussels today in an attempt to break the impasse, Mr Varadkar came under pressure from Opposition parties at home over his apparent refusal to back the socialist candidate Frans Timmermans for the Commission presidency.

Mr Varadkar is not ruling out ultimately backing Mr Timmermans, although the Dutchman's chances appeared to be receding last night as back-channel discussions continued among EU leaders and officials in a bid to find a compromise.

Mr Varadkar has so far sided with a number of countries whose leaders are in the European People's Party (EPP) - with which Fine Gael is aligned - in opposing Mr Timmermans.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron tried to install Timmermans as president of the European Commission as part of a compromise package hammered out at the G20 in Osaka. But the plan fell apart on Sunday amidst opposition within the EPP, the EU's largest political grouping.

The stalemate at the end of a marathon overnight summit sparked anger from Mr Macron, who said there were "too many hidden agendas" at play.

Stalemate: A bid to install Frans Timmermans as EC president failed amid opposition within the EPP grouping. Picture: Reuters
Stalemate: A bid to install Frans Timmermans as EC president failed amid opposition within the EPP grouping. Picture: Reuters

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin backed Mr Timmermans, saying: "I find it extraordinary that the Taoiseach is putting EPP politics before Ireland's interests when he outlines his concerns about the suggested appointment of Mr Timmermans as a compromise candidate."

Mr Martin said the Taoiseach was aligning Ireland with EPP parties in Poland and Hungary whose record on the rule of law and judicial independence had been called into question.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said: "Ireland's interest would be better served if Leo Varadkar avoided publicly supporting the right-wing of the conservative EPP group, who are unlikely to support Ireland in a hard Brexit."

A source close to the Taoiseach rejected the criticism, insisting that Ireland's priority was for "a balanced package of top jobs which properly reflects gender, geography and politics".

Mr Varadkar's camp was also forced to pour cold water on suggestions from the outgoing European Council President Donald Tusk that the Taoiseach could be the next Commission president. Mr Tusk floated Mr Varadkar's name as one option in bilateral meetings with EU leaders in the early hours of yesterday morning.

However, Mr Varadkar told Mr Tusk he was not interested in the job, insisting he did not want to be considered.

As well as the Commission presidency, leaders are trying to agree on who will take up the presidencies of the Council and Parliament, as well as the post of EU high representative for foreign affairs.

The next Commission president must have the support of at least 72pc of the 28 member states, who must represent at least two-thirds of the EU population under the qualified majority voting formula. Mr Timmermans was facing opposition from nearly a dozen countries last night. A successful candidate must also get the backing of the European Parliament.

Irish Independent

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