Varadkar reiterates support for Manfred Weber, despite candidacy doubts

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has restated Ireland's support for Manfred Weber to replace Jean Claude Juncker as Europe's most senior politician.

As EU leaders gathered in Brussels to begin the process to choose who will occupy the top jobs in European politics for the next five years, the Taoiseach said his commitment to back Mr Weber remains, despite reports suggesting that he is now backing Michel Barnier, the EU's Brexit negotiator.

Among those present was Theresa May who joined counterparts from the 27 other European Union countries before she leaves office next month.

Although Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct 31 - and Mrs May is due to depart Downing Street before that - she emphasised that she would "play a constructive role".

"While we are still a member of the EU, while I am Prime Minister, I will be continuing to meet the obligations of the office, the duties of the office, and that includes being here today where we are due to discuss the top jobs in EU institutions. The UK will continue to play a constructive role during the time of this extension of Article 50," she said as she arrived in Brussels.

As well as a replacement for Mr Juncker, the national leaders are also likely to consider candidates for European Council president, EU high representative - responsible for foreign affairs - and head of the European Central Bank.

Mr Varadkar re-stated his support for Manfred Weber to become Commission president, despite growing doubts over his candidacy. Reports had suggested that Ireland would now support Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier but the Taoiseach said his commitment to Mr Weber remains:

That commitment stands, I had a very good meeting earlier on with the EPP party leaders and also met Manfred Weber. I am somebody who believes in a more democratic Europe, and that means that the result of the European election should be reflected in who we elect or appoint as president of the European Commission.

“And the EPP has won the most seats in the European Parliament elections, and our candidate for that position is Manfred Weber, who again has been to Ireland many times and has been very supportive of Irish interests."

He did qualify his response by saying: “I am also realistic in the sense that I know that the EPP doesn’t have enough seats on its own to form a majority, nor can a majority be formed without us.

"So what we will have to do is get together with the Social Democrats, and also talk to the Greens, the Conservatives and also the Liberals, and may need to bring one or two of them on board as well, and that is going to involve of course a compromise, being the largest group, the most important position, the president of the European Commission, I believe should come to our group and our candidate for that position is Manfred Weber.”

Ireland and France have made a joint pitch for EU funding for a €1bn electricity link between the countries as part of post-Brexit energy planning. In Brussels, ahead of the leaders' summit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and French President Emmanuel Macron signed a joint request to the European Commission seeking financial support for the Celtic Interconnector.

The proposed connector between the south coast of Ireland and the north-west coast of France would stretch for 500 kilometres under the sea. They have written to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker requesting support for a grant application that would see the EU foot 60% of the bill.

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