Ursula von der Leyen conducted video interviews on Monday with Mairead McGuinness, a Vice-President of Parliament, and Andrew McDowell, who recently concluded a spell as Vice-President of the European Investment Bank.
Von der Leyen, a strong advocate of gender balance, not least in her own College of Commissioners, had called on Ireland to put forward a male and female candidate and she will choose the ultimate nominee.
At a Commission press briefing on Monday, a spokesman for the executive confirmed the two names and said the President had already started interviewing them, via a video link because of the pandemic.
The Irish government, in a statement, said both candidates have shown they can “make a contribution in the most demanding roles.”
“Both candidates are suitably qualified for the role, but the successful candidate should be a politician rather than a civil servant or technocrat” Barry Andrews MEP
The 61-year-old McGuinness, a former journalist and deputy since 2004, is seen as the clear frontrunner.
A First Vice-President of Parliament since 2017, she failed to win election to the Irish Parliament in 2007. Four years later, she missed out on her party’s nomination to be Ireland’s president.
McDowell had not been considered a candidate so is something of a surprise package. He is a former economic adviser to ex-Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and later joined the EIB as Vice-President, completing a 4-year term this month.
Whoever emerges as the final nominee will face confirmation by Parliament. The consensus is that Ireland will not retain the key trade dossier with von der Leyen thought to be preparing a minor reshuffle of her team of commissioners.
Reaction on Monday was swift, with Irish RE member Barry Andrews telling this website, “Both candidates are suitably qualified for the role, but I am on record over the past number of weeks advocating that the successful candidate should be a politician rather than a civil servant or technocrat.”
“I think Ms McGuinness should get it. It also helps von der Leyen’s commitment to get more women into top positions. I hope before the century ends we will see a black, Asian or ethnic minority Commission President” Denis MacShane, former UK Europe Minister
“Furthermore, I welcomed the request from President von der Leyen at the beginning of the process for a male and a female candidate to be selected and I support her desire to achieve gender balance.”
Denis MacShane, a former UK Europe Minister, also told this site, “Being an effective EU commissioner requires a full set of political skills as well as technical competence. Ireland has strength in depth on European jobs but I think Ms McGuiness should get it.”
He added, “It also helps von der Leyen’s commitment to get more women into top positions. I hope before the century ends we will see a black, Asian or ethnic minority Commission President. The Commission is the last governing body in the world where everyone is white.”