European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed her intention to nominate Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness for the Financial Services, Stability and Capital Markets portfolio in a small reshuffle of the Commission’s political leadership.
In the reshuffle announced on Wednesday, Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, currently in charge of the financial services portfolio will take over as EU Trade Commissioner. The position was vacated when Phil Hogan resigned on 26 August over a political scandal in Ireland over his breaking of coronavirus quarantine and lockdown measures.
McGuinness, who has been an MEP since 2004 for the Midlands North-West constituency, is a member of the EPP, First Vice-President of the European Parliament, and a member of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. Throughout her four terms, she has also served on the Budget Committee as well as a number of Parliamentary Delegations to third countries.
While McGuinness, who is well known and respected in the EU institutions, lacks the detailed knowledge and experience for the financial services portfolio, her long service in the European Parliament means that she brings with her an almost unrivalled understanding of the inter-institutional political processes and personal relationships with key players.
Following the nomination by President von der Leyen, McGuinness is set to return to the European Parliament for a hearing in the Economics and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON) in the coming weeks. While a hearing date is not yet set, it is likely that it will be last week of September. If she receives the backing of the ECON Committee, she will only need to pass a full plenary vote before taking up her role in the Commission’s Berlaymont building. However, this backing remains to be seen, as initial soundings from the European Parliament indicate a high-level of suspicion in handing such an important and far-reaching portfolio to Ireland, which has a reputation among certain member states and political groups for being lax on matters of financial integrity, even despite the Irish nominee McGuinness being one of their own. While the leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group, which holds the Chair of the ECON committee, Iraxte Garcia-Perez tweeted her congratulations to McGuinness, applauding the prospect of a now-gender balanced Commission, she also said that “Ireland is not a fair tax player and holding both FISMA and Eurogroup (Donohoe) is not what the EU needs for a just and social answer to the crisis. Looking forward to the hearings.”
McGuinness’ nomination for EU financial services chief comes as the European Commission prepares for a major offensive on economic and financial services matters in the months to come, with a new Action Plan on FinTech, a Strategy on EU retail payments, a proposal on digital currencies, sustainable finance as well as the completion of the EU Banking Union and Capital Markets Union on the agenda.
While the Commission’s headline priorities for the year have already been set out in its 2020 Work Programme, it will be for McGuinness and her new team to actually politically design and steer the new initiatives.
Among the most pressing topics she will have to face upon taking up the role will be to guide and distribute the EU’s COVID-19 Recovery Fund, as well as combining it with President von der Leyen’s objective of driving the EU Green Deal through sustainable financing across all sectors of the economy.