DÁIL PQ WITH TÁNAISTE ON EU COMMISSIONER

Thomas P. Broughan

  1. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when a decision will be made on the appointment of Ireland’s next EU Commissioner. [7998/19] I put this question about the appointment of our next EU Commissioner earlier to the Taoiseach and he referred it to the Tánaiste. We heard that the current Commissioner, our former colleague, Mr. Hogan, has indicated that he is positively disposed to another five-year term, as of course he would be. What about the role of this House in the appointment? For example, is it a matter for the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil in this type of coalition Government or is it such a fundamental choice, for example, in agriculture or financial matters, in the post-Brexit era, that this House should be intimately involved?

Deputy Simon CoveneyThe nomination of the Irish Commissioner to serve as a member of the next College of Commissioners will be taken by the Taoiseach and Government in due course.

Following the election by the incoming European Parliament of the new Commission President, which is expected to take place in July, I expect the new President to begin working with member states who will designate Commission nominees from their countries.

I expect this process of consultation will take place in the succeeding weeks in July and August in order for the new President to build up a team and for all the Commissioners-designate to attend hearings in the European Parliament in September to October, prior to the Parliament’s own vote of consent.

What happens is that governments suggest candidates and they become Commissioners designate. They then have to go through a hearing system in the European Parliament, something I have taken part in previously as a member of that parliament, which involves a fairly robust questioning process. The European Parliament then decides whether to approve the College of Commissioners. That is the way it will work and I am not aware of anything in the confidence and supply arrangement that is linked to the selection of Ireland’s next European Commissioner.

Deputy Thomas P. BroughanI am sure the Tánaiste agrees that the next five years will be critical for this country and for its representative on the 27-person Commission. Notwithstanding the importance of the portfolio of our current Commissioner, we must be cognisant of the importance of the finance portfolio because we are facing action from France and Germany on the unanimity rule on taxation. In that context, should we be considering someone who has a background in finance? Furthermore, the gender ratio of the current Commission is more than 2:1, male to female. In that regard, there is a case to be made for Ireland to nominate a female Commissioner this time around and to choose one from the many distinguished women in public life – in this House and elsewhere – who could fulfil this role very well. There is an opportunity for us to break new ground. Given the situation regarding Brexit, there is also a strong case to be made for Ireland to put forward a candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission. An Irish President of the Commission for the next five years would be beneficial in view of the fact that this is such a difficult time for our country.

Deputy Simon CoveneyThe Deputy is right that the next five years will be crucial for the EU and for Ireland’s place in it. There is no question about that. I hope that Brexit will not still be an ongoing issue in August, September and October, although it could be. To be honest, I do not want get above myself; this is a call for the Taoiseach. He will make a recommendation, taking into account many of the issues that Deputy Broughan has raised. Ireland needs to select somebody who is able and who has the necessary skill set to be able to do a really good job for Ireland in the Commission, but not just for Ireland. The candidate must do a really good job for the Commission because when one is in the College of Commissioners, one is representing the EU as a collective and not necessarily one’s country’s place in the EU. It is a serious decision and the Taoiseach will need to weigh up all of those factors and recommend somebody who is appropriate for the job. I am very confident he will be able to do that.

Deputy Thomas P. BroughanThere is great dissatisfaction across Europe with the level of democracy in the institutions of the EU, particularly the Commission, and this has been cited as one of the reasons that a majority in the UK voted to leave. There was no democratic control whatsoever regarding the appointment of the secretary general to the Commission. Dissatisfaction was expressed in this House, in other parliaments and in the European Parliament regarding that appointment. We now have an opportunity to have a more democratic process by involving this House. It is surprising to hear that Fianna Fáil, despite the confidence and supply arrangement – which is effectively a coalition arrangement – does not have an input into this and that the House will not have an input either.

The next five years will be critical and the decision on Ireland’s next Commissioner is very important. Gender is an issue that should be considered very actively given that many in Europe are of the view that the Commission’s gender ratio should be 50:50. We could take the initiative in that regard and select a Commissioner from among the many distinguished women in public life in this country.

Deputy Simon CoveneyAs already stated, it is not my call. As a member of the Government, I will have an input into the decision but this is ultimately down to the Taoiseach’s judgment. I disagree with the Deputy’s overall point. This is a democratic process; the Government is democratically elected and represents Ireland’s interests. Every day it make decisions on behalf of the people and it can be changed at election time. This is one of the decisions that this Government needs to make. We have a mandate from the people to make decisions on their behalf in lots of areas and this is just another one of them.