27th Oct 2016

Brussels examines McCreevy plan to join Ryanair

  • Charlie McCreevy was EU commissioner for the internal market (Photo: European Commission)

Brussels is examining whether former EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy's move to join the board of Irish lowcost airline Ryanair is in breach of ethical rules governing the professional activities of ex-commissioners for up to a year after they leave office.

According to a report in Wednesday's (28 April) Irish Times, commission officials are checking to see if the invitation to become a non-executive director of Ryanair is in line with EU rules that oblige former commissioners to "behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance ... of certain appointments or benefits."

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"He has informed us that he intends to take up a post in Ryanair and we have consulted our ad-hoc ethical committee," a commission official told the paper.

"This is a process we often go through when an ex-commissioner takes up a new job within a year of leaving office. Based on the committee's opinion, we will have to make a decision in the coming weeks as to whether this would be in line with the rules of the treaty."

The invitation comes just two months after Mr McCreevy left his post as internal market commissioner, one of the most powerful portfolios in the commission.

Mr McCreevy, previously a finance minister in Ireland, has long been an admirer of Ryanair, the highly successful no-frills airline run by businessman Michael O'Leary.

"On so many fronts Ryanair has been a phenomenal success story. It has transformed people's lives, transformed businesses opportunities, even attitudes," he said back in 2006.

Mr O'Leary's business model, which includes flying to small regional airports that are inclined to offer him favourable conditions for using the airport and revitalising the local economy, has often put him on the European Commission's radar.

At the moment the company is subject to seven state aid inquiries by Brussels while in 2007, the commission blocked a bid by Ryanair to take over Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus.

Mr O'Leary's past run-ins with the commission have often led to an explosion of colourful tirades against the Brussels institution, with the Irishman not known for holding back on his opinions.

Mr McCreevy has something of a similar of reputation for plain speaking. When he first arrived in Brussels he caused a bit of a stir in the collegiate EU executive when he accused a fellow commissioner of speaking "out of both sides of their mouth on this particular issue."

He is also well-remembered for admitting that he had never read the Lisbon Treaty, adding for good measure that no "sane" person ever would, precisely at the same time that Dublin was trying to get the text passed in a referendum.

Later, as the Lisbon Treaty was put to a referendum for a second time in Ireland, EU officials were somewhat bemused to see Mr O'Leary come down on the side of the EU establishment and campaign strongly in favour of the text.

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