Public Affairs

Nominating a European Commissioner

Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD recently said that the Ireland’s European Commissioner will be a Fianna Fáil nominee, but exactly who this will be and how it will be determined is less clear.

The process of nominating a commissioner is a somewhat convoluted one which generally begins in one of two ways. Either a new government gets elected within a member state, or there is a change in the aftermath of elections to the European Parliament, which take place quinquennially.

In Ireland, there is no formal process outlined for determining a commissioner. Nomination of Ireland’s commissioner is generally agreed by the Cabinet and is treated in a manner akin to a diplomatic appointment. In some EU member states, the nomination of its commissioner depends on a parliamentary vote.

To ratify a member state’s nominee for commissioner, European Parliament committees draw up evaluations of the candidate’s expertise and performance, which is sent to the Conference of Committee Chairs.

The Conference of Committee Chairs sends the evaluation letters to the President of the Parliament, and it is to the Conference of Presidents to close the hearings.

The full Commission, including the Commission President and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, then needs to be approved in a single vote of consent by Parliament. After the President and commissioners have been approved by Parliament, they are formally appointed by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority.

European elections are to take place in early June 2024, and one of the first tasks of the new parliament will be to approve a new President of the European Commission, which is a role highly similar to that of a head of government like the Taoiseach or a prime minister.

Member states nominate a candidate for the post, but in doing so, they must take account of the European election results, as the European Parliament needs to approve the new Commission President by a majority. Given current polling projections, it is sufficiently possible that there will be a disconnect between some member states’ government parties, and the MEPs those same states send to the European Parliament in June.

One means of squaring this potential circle is provided for via reforms to the nomination process enacted in 2014 which stipulate that, in the event of a national government’s nominee for Commission President being unable to garner support, that European political parties can put forward a lead candidate for President of the European Commission on behalf of the European Parliament. If this candidate can subsequently garner a majority of support from the Parliament, then they become the Commission President.

This is not a conundrum which is likely to manifest in Ireland, with the electorate likely to send a number of MEPs to Brussels from government parties, albeit with a projected increase in Sinn Féin’s crop of MEPs

In 2014, Fianna Fáil only elected one MEP, Brian Crowley (who later left the party). Micheál Martin TD has asserted that, in the aftermath of the upcoming European elections, that Commissioner Mairead McGuinness (Fine Gael’s nominee) will be replaced by a Fianna Fáil nominee, although McGuinness herself has not commented on the Tánaiste’s remarks. However, if the upcoming election produces a similar result to 2014 for Fianna Fáil, it is difficult to see how the Tánaiste would be able to stand over his assertion that Fianna Fáil will nominate the next commissioner.

Furthermore, the new commissioner will be formally appointed in October after the European elections are held. A general election in Ireland is to follow shortly after this as the Dáil legally must be dissolved by February 2025 and if the general election leads to a new government, it will have the right to dismiss this prospective Fianna Fáil appointee and appoint its own commissioner.

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