Subscriber OnlyPolitics

Varadkar and Martin circulated as names for top Brussels job after surprise resignation

European Council president Charles Michel’s decision to step down prompts speculation Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin may be considered for role

Varadkar and Martin circulated as names for top Brussels job after surprise resignation

A surprise announcement by the president of the European Council that he will resign to contest the European Parliament elections has fired the starting gun on a race for top jobs in Brussels, with both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste mentioned as possible successors.

The job involves chairing discussions of European Union leaders, setting their agenda and brokering compromises, and the national leaders prefer to elect former heads of government as they bring the desired experience and statesmanlike status to the role.

Though neither is seen as a frontrunner, the names of both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin have been among those circulating in Brussels as potential candidates, sources close to the matter say. They would represent their centre-right European People’s Party and liberal Renew groups respectively, and their appointment would depend on how complex political negotiations play out.

It is unclear whether either would be interested in the job. This weekend, Mr Varadkar said he intended to contest the coming general election due by March 2025, while Mr Martin said in November that he would lead Fianna Fáil into the next election.


The current office holder is Charles Michel, a former prime minister of Belgium in the Renew group who has held the role since 2019. His decision to run for the European Parliament, announced this weekend, brings forward the end of his mandate as European Council president from November to June.

The move has ignited discussions of candidates for all the top roles in Brussels, from the president of the European Commission to the European Parliament, as the jobs are typically divided up between political parties in a package deal between the largest political groups.

European Union national leaders are set to discuss how to dole out the jobs at a summit in Brussels in June, and their decisions should reflect which parties emerge with the biggest mandates from the European elections that take place from June 6th-9th.

Portuguese Socialist leader Antonio Costa had been considered a frontrunner to succeed Mr Michel before his official residence was raided by police in November and authorities said he was being investigated as part of a corruption probe, forcing him to resign though he has denied any wrongdoing.

The Socialists, who make up the second-largest political group in the EU as the centre-left block, also have potential alternative candidates in the form of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, Finland’s Sanna Marin and Italy’s Enrico Letta.

If the position is kept in the hands of the liberal Renew group, Mr Martin’s potential rivals could include Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, Estonia’s Kaja Kallas, Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel, and Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo, who did not rule himself out when asked about the position on Monday while saying his first focus was coming Belgian national elections.

Tactful consensus-builders are valued for the role and Mr Martin’s modest personality is seen as a point in his favour. However, being associated with a pro-Palestinian position may make him controversial among a handful of EU member states, given the current prominence of the issue.

The centre-right EPP has few clear candidates, making space for Mr Varadkar if he was interested, but the job is unlikely to go to someone from that political group if European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen retains her job for a second term as expected, as it would put too many top jobs in the hands of the same party.

Mr Michel’s announcement has piled pressure on Dr von der Leyen to make her intentions clear. He told journalists he was entering the election race because it was important for European leaders to have public legitimacy, a subtle dig at his bitter rival at the head of the commission who was nominated by leaders without running in the European elections and may be so again.

Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times