McGuinness in race for top job

December 6th, 2016 8:15 AM

By Southern Star Team

Rose O'Donovan - Letter From Brussels

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IRISH MEP Mairéad McGuinness formally announced her intention to put her name forward as a candidate for the top job as president of the European Parliament on November 23rd. Under the deal struck between the EP’s two largest political groups after the 2014 elections, the European People’s Party (EPP) centre-right group is due to take over the reins from Martin Schulz’s centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D). 

The first female graduate of University College Dublin’s Bachelor of Science Degree in Agricultural Economics (1980), McGuinness worked as a journalist with the Irish Farmers Journal and served as editor of the Irish Independent’s farming supplement before entering politics. The highly-regarded and articulate MEP for Ireland’s Midlands and North-West has emerged as a prominent member of the EP’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development since first taking office in June 2004. 

The Ardee politician showed her mettle during tough negotiations on the 2013 CAP reform. In July 2014, she expanded her portfolio when she was elected EP vice-president and now oversees the parliament’s information policy, press and citizens relations. 

A day after McGuinness made her announcement, EP president Martin Schulz confirmed he was not seeking a third term at the helm of the EU institution, confirming his plans to contest next year’s Bundestag elections in Germany, as head of the SPD list in North Rhine-Westphalia. 

As the Social Democrat politician sets his ambitions on taking over from Chancellor Angela Merkel in federal elections next autumn, this now leaves the race for the top job at the 751-strong assembly wide open. 

But the course to the top of the directly-elected institution is not going to be plain sailing. Other key names include French veteran MEP Alain Lamassoure threw his hat into the ring on November 24th. The 72-year-old French politician from the South-West of France, who served as chairman of the EP Budgets Committee from July 2009 to June 2014, is a member of ‘Les Républicains’ party. 

Meanwhile, the current chairman of the centre-right political group Manfred Weber has not ruled himself out, though sources say the 44-year-old Bavarian politician has been reticent to move to Brussels ‘full-time’ since taking office in June 2004. 

Slovenia’s former Prime Minister Alojz Peterle, current chair of the delegation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, has also been touted as a potential candidate from the EPP group, as well as ex-EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani. 

The 57-year-old former presenter of the popular programme ‘Ear to the Ground’ said it was ‘still early days,’ expressing her delight ‘to be one of those being considered as a candidate for our group.’ She said: ‘I have both the experience and skills to run for this position … the work I’ve done over the past 10 years as an MEP has stood to me, and a number of approaches have been made to me over the last few months, asking me to run.’ McGuinness would like her fellow MEPs to view her as a ‘credible candidate who is a woman … as opposed to a woman candidate,’ quipping that the ‘race was on.’ The final decision on the EPP candidate – the political group to which Fine Gael is affiliated – is expected by December 13th, while Schulz’s successor will be appointed on January 17th for a 2 year term. 

If McGuinness is elected as EP president, she would follow in the footsteps of her fellow countryman Pat Cox, who served in the top post between 2002 and 2004, which coincided with European enlargement. Now that was an exciting time for this young girl from Ballydehob when I worked in Cox’s Cabinet for the latter months of his tenure! 

• Rose O’Donovan is editor of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS & a regular contributor to the video platform

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