FINE GAEL MEPS have confirmed there is a strong desire among many politicians and officials in Europe for Enda Kenny to take one of two top EU jobs next year, but all think he is likely to remain at home.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie in Brussels this week, Mairead McGuinness, Seán Kelly and Jim Higgins all confirmed that there is much talk of the Taoiseach becoming either the next president of the European Commission or the president of the European Council.
Kelly said that he had even been approached by current Council president Herman van Rompuy in June who told him that they are serious about approaching Kenny for the role.
“Mr van Rompuy came over to the table I was at and said: ‘Yes we’re serious about it, will you have a chat with your Taoiseach about it?’
“So I did and he [Kenny] was flattered, but I think his commitment to Ireland and to ensuring that he puts Ireland on a steady footing during his time as Taoiseach may inhibit his movements. The timing might be wrong for him. [But] quite obviously he’s very highly regarded here in Europe.”
While the Council presidency does not become available until over a year from now Kenny could run as the European People’s Party (EPP) candidate for the presidency of the European Commission in May.
Nominations for this take place at an EPP summit in Dublin next March. The chosen candidate will go on to face other European groupings’ candidates, including the current European Parliament president Martin Schulz who is the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats’ candidate.
Officials in Brussels hope to have a US-style presidential competition for the position currently occupied by Jose Manuel Barroso, with continent-wide TV debates planned.
Speaking to this website, Ireland West MEP Jim Higgins said he would prefer Kenny to take van Rompuy’s role as head of the European Council as then Ireland would retain its European Commissioner.
“I personally think it would be a great honour for Ireland if he gets one of the two plum positions,” he said. “We’ve never had it before, it’s recognition of the stalwart work he has done.”
But Higgins added that he does not think Kenny will go for the position, saying: “Look, I’ve discussed it with Enda ad-nauseam and he has not indicated any resolve or any ambition to be here.”
Despite this Kenny has not explicitly ruled out taking up a position in Brussels, saying only that he is “flattered” to have been linked with the two roles.
McGuinness said that Kenny commands respect in Europe for his ability to compromise, citing negotiations on the EU’s seven-year budget which were largely concluded during Ireland’s presidency earlier this year.
“Enda Kenny isn’t just popular, because anybody can be popular. Enda Kenny is hugely respected for what he has done,” she said.
She added: “I haven’t seen it written down in a confidential document but everywhere in these corridors people say it to me and I think that’s hugely positive.”
McGuinness, an MEP for Ireland East, joked that she would like to see Kenny “cloned” so that he could occupy both positions and remain Taoiseach, but added she believes he will stay in Ireland.
“I still feel, knowing him, [he has] a personal input into Ireland’s recovery and his 24/7 commitment to Ireland and the recovery, and I suppose his ability to keep that going. Personally, I would think that he’s there for the long haul.”