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Cablegate: Ireland's Nominee for Eu Commissioner

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PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHDL #0502/01 3291303
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 251303Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY DUBLIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0320
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBL/AMCONSUL BELFAST PRIORITY 1109

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 DUBLIN 000502

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/24/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR ECON EUN EI
SUBJECT: IRELAND'S NOMINEE FOR EU COMMISSIONER

REF: DUBLIN 416 AND PREVIOUS

DUBLIN 00000502 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Robert J. Faucher. Reasons 1.4(b/d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: A highly placed official (PROTECT) in the
Prime Minister's office told us that Ireland's nominee for
the first post-Lisbon European Commission, Maire
Geoghegan-Quinn, was tapped not only for her qualifications
but also for domestic and EU-wide political reasons. Ireland
hopes for an economic portfolio of "moderate" importance, and
nominating a woman with Geoghegan-Quinn's background was
thought to improve the chances of garnering such a portfolio.
Geoghegan-Quinn's resume suggests she could handle a
Commission job well, and we do not expect her past
association with anti-Lisbon crusader Declan Ganley to affect
her candidacy. She is currently a member of the European
Court of Auditors and served three times as a cabinet
minister during 22 years as a member of the Irish parliament.
END SUMMARY.

----------------------------------
FACTORS DETERMINING THE NOMINATION
----------------------------------

2. (C) After Prime Minister Brian Cowen announced
Geoghegan-Quinn's nomination on November 17, Poloff talked to
John Callinan (PROTECT), Assistant Secretary General of the
European and International Affairs Division in the Department
of the Prime Minister. Callinan said Cowen had decided on
Geoghegan-Quinn personally, and that, given that all of the
top contenders had roughly equivalent personal
qualifications, two factors dominated in his decision-making
process: domestic political considerations, and the desire
for an important portfolio for the next Irish EU
Commissioner. Geoghegan-Quinn was the contender who best fit
the bill in both areas.

--------------------------------------------- ---
DOMESTIC POLITICS: THE COALITION'S SLIM MAJORITY
--------------------------------------------- ---

3. (C) Callinan confirmed the widely held assumption of press
and pundits that Cowen wanted to nominate someone of his own
party (centrist Fianna Fail), but that he could not afford to
lose a seat in the Irish parliament with the governing
coalition holding only a four-seat majority. This ruled out
nominating not only a current member of parliament but also a
sitting minister, as all cabinet ministers also hold
parliament seats. Geoghegan-Quinn represented a good
solution to this dilemma. She is a Fianna Fail member who
has had ample experience both as a cabinet minister and as a
member of parliament; she left electoral politics in 1997 but
has current EU experience as a member of the European Court
of Auditors since 2000.

-------------------------------------
EU POLITICS: GETTING A GOOD PORTFOLIO
-------------------------------------

4. (C) Callinan said the desire to optimize Ireland's chances
of getting as important a Commission portfolio as possible
was a primary factor in Cowen,s decision to nominate
Geoghegan-Quinn. Callinan told us Cowen had spoken "many
times" to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who makes
the final decision on which portfolios each new Commissioner
will get. Cowen had discussed possible nominees and made
known to Barroso which portfolios Ireland wanted most.

--------------------------------------
GOING FOR MID-IMPORTANCE ECONOMIC POST
--------------------------------------

5. (C) Callinan said that Ireland was shooting for an
economic portfolio of mid-level importance. Cowen did not
believe Ireland, as a small EU member state, had a chance at
a high-importance portfolio this time around for three
reasons. First, outgoing Irish EU Commissioner Charlie
McCreevy had had a high-importance portfolio, Internal
Market, for the past five years; second, McCreevy, rightly or
wrongly, was not well thought of in Brussels ) the general
consensus was that he had not worked hard nor performed at a
level worthy of the portfolio; and third, despite the
resounding success of the October 2 referendum (reftels), the
trauma of the Lisbon Treaty debate had weakened Ireland's
hand in Brussels. In this context, what Ireland wanted to
avoid if at all possible was a low-importance portfolio, such
as "anything to do with linguistics."

-------------------------------------
GOING FOR "FORWARD-LOOKING" PORTFOLIO
-------------------------------------


DUBLIN 00000502 002.2 OF 003


6. (C) In contrast to what is widely reported in the Irish
media, Callinan said Ireland did not want the budget
portfolio. Neither was agriculture its top choice. Although
Ireland would be relatively satisfied with agriculture, as
the EU's Common Agricultural Policy was very important to
Ireland, it would prefer a more "forward-looking portfolio,
such as one covering research and development or knowledge
society. R&D or knowledge society, said Callinan, would fit
with how Ireland wants to position itself coming out of the
global recession.

-----------------------------------
NOMINEE FITS BARROSO'S, PM'S, BILLS
-----------------------------------

7. (C) Given the considerations described in paras 3-6 above,
Callinan said, Geoghegan-Quinn was again the best choice.
Not only did she have the governmental and political
background to command a decent portfolio (see paras 10-11
below for biographic information), but she is also a woman )
and Barroso had pointedly called for member states to
nominate women for the next Commission. Her qualifications
did not necessarily stand out from those of other possible
nominees (Callinan mentioned former European Parliament
president Pat Cox as the second choice, followed by former PM
and EU Ambassador to the U.S. John Bruton). All have
impressive resumes that would augur a successful term as
Commissioner, Callinan said. However, unlike Cox and Bruton,
Geoghegan-Quinn is a Fianna Fail member and a woman.

---------------------------------
NOMINEE AND ANTI-LISBON CRUSADER?
---------------------------------

8. (C) Callinan confirmed press reports that, during her time
in the private sector from 1997-2000, Geoghegan-Quinn had sat
on the board of the Ganley Group, a company run by Declan
Ganley, who spearheaded the successful anti-Lisbon campaign
in 2008 and played a prominent, if belated, role in the
September 2009 "no" campaign. Callinan added, though, that
at the time, Ganley was known only as one of the "most
successful and forward-looking entrepreneurs in Ireland."
His views on the EU were unknown until recent years, and
therefore inconsequential. In fact, Callinan opined,
Geoghegan-Quinn's association with the Ganley Group, a
company specializing in investment in emerging technologies,
only strengthens the case that she could obtain the type of
forward-looking economic portfolio that Ireland wants for its
EU Commissioner.

------------------------------------------
COMMENT: GEOGHEGAN-QUINN WILL BE COMPETENT
------------------------------------------

9. (C) Geoghegan-Quinn, who has worked in Luxembourg since
2000 and retired from Irish politics in 1997, is not known
personally to us. Her background (see paras 10-11) and
reputation in Ireland indicate, however, that she may be
expected to be a competent Commissioner and interlocutor with
the U.S. Her ample ministerial experience gives her
familiarity with the cabinet-level type of work that closely
resembles that of an EU Commissioner, and her EU-related
experience ) both as Minister of State for European Affairs
and as a member of the European Court of Auditors )
indicates a good grounding in the how the EU works. END
COMMENT.

----------------------------
GEOGHEGAN-QUINN'S BACKGROUND
----------------------------

10. (SBU) Maire Geoghegan-Quinn was born in 1950 in County
Galway in the west of Ireland. Her academic degree is in
education. She is married with two adult children. She is a
member of the Fianna Fail party (centrist), and served as a
member of the Irish parliament for 22 years, from 1975-1997.
In 1979 Geoghegan-Quinn became Ireland's first female cabinet
minister, when she was appointed Minister for the Gaeltacht,
the Gaelic-speaking areas of Ireland. She remained in that
position until 1981, following that with service as cabinet
minister in other departments or in a slightly lower-ranking
minister of state position on many occasions: in 1982, she
was Minister of State for Education; from 1987-91 she was
Minister of State for European Affairs; from 1992-93,
Geoghegan-Quinn was Minister for Tourism, Transport and
Communications, and from 1993-94 she was Minister of Justice.
She left politics in 1997 and worked for the next three
years as a business consultant and print and broadcast
journalist. She served on the Board of Directors of Aer
Lingus and the Ganley Group, Declan Ganley's private equity
firm specializing in start-up companies in new technology
fields. From 2000 until now, she has worked as a member of

DUBLIN 00000502 003.2 OF 003


the European Court of Auditors, the Luxembourg-based
institution that monitors and audits the collection and
expenditure of EU funds.

------------------------
REPUTATION FOR TOUGHNESS
------------------------

11. (C) Geoghegan-Quinn is known for her toughness. At a
meeting in November 1991 she told the then-Prime Minister,
Charles Haughey, that the people of her constituency, Galway
West, never wanted to see his face on an election poster
again. In opposition to Haughey's leadership she resigned as
Minister of State. Three months later, the efforts of
Geoghegan-Quinn and other members of the so-called "Country
and Western Alliance," which included Brian Cowen, led to
Haughey's being replaced as Prime Minister and Fianna Fail
leader by Albert Reynolds. Geoghegan-Quinn was appointed
Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications for her
loyalty to Reynolds. In 1993, as Minister for Justice,
Geoghegan-Quinn introduced substantial reform legislation,
including the decriminalization of homosexuality. Widely
tipped to be the first female Prime Minister, she challenged
Bertie Ahern for the position when Reynolds retired, in
November 1994. However, with the odds stacked against her on
the day the Fianna Fail members of parliament voted on who
should replace Reynolds, she withdrew from the contest and
Ahern became Prime Minister. In 1997 she resigned from Irish
politics, citing invasion of privacy in reference to
newspaper reports about her son's having been expelled from
school. When then-Prime Minister Ahern appointed her to the
European Court of Auditors, press and pundits interpreted it
as a low-key but lucrative end to a political career.
FAUCHER

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