The influence of the Eurogroup president has waned under the last two incumbents, especially compared to during the financial crisis. The role now is more about building consensus in a group that has become notorious for being constantly divided.
As Brussels veteran Andrew Duff of the European Policy Centre think tank puts it: “The complexity of the budgetary problem of the EU is so great that Donohue’s going to find it difficult to be a bridge between the divided gaps and there are plenty of them. There are the poor and the rich, the federalist and the nationalist, the farmers and the progressives, there’s east versus west, north versus south, and the institutional clash between the Commission, Council and Parliament.”
But Ireland’s position as a “poster child” for the countries that faced the worst of the eurozone debt crisis then managed to use their bailouts – however painful – to recover successfully, gives it a unique ability to relate to both peripheral and more fiscally conservative members.
“It can speak to both sides, which not many countries are in a position to do,” says Federico Santi of the Eurasia Group. “At the same time Ireland does share many of the characteristics of the northern Baltic countries, in terms of having a strong preference for a low-tax regime and being a small, competitive EU country with a fairly open economy.”
Santi adds that this openness has attracted large multinational firms to Ireland, giving it a global role, hence in part Hogan’s appointment as trade commissioner.
Cynics also claim that the advance of the Irish in the EU is the bloc’s way of showing Britain what it’s missing, but as Santi points out, Ireland is one of the EU countries most exposed to the risks of Brexit going wrong.
No small task awaits Donohue: persuading the Eurogroup’s net contributors to open their coffers while asking its net recipients to accept conditions on the help they get. He may well need the luck of the Irish.