Boost for Phil Hogan in race for agriculture portfolio

Return of former Italian minister to race for foreign policy post opens door for Irish commissioner

Phil Hogan: to  hold his first formal meeting with commission president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker next week. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Phil Hogan: to hold his first formal meeting with commission president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker next week. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Thu, Aug 28, 2014, 01:05

Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini is back in the race to become EU foreign policy chief, potentially boosting the Government’s campaign to secure the agriculture portfolio for incoming Irish commissioner Phil Hogan.

EU leaders gather in Brussels for a special summit on Saturday to select the next foreign policy commissioner and a successor to European Council president Herman Van Rompuy. The current favourites for Mr Van Rompuy’s job are Polish prime minister Donald Tusk and former Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip, although informed sources said there was no deal as of yet.

The last summit in mid-July ended in stalemate when Ms Mogherini ran into resistance from former eastern bloc countries who argued she was too soft on Russia’s interventions in Ukraine. However, well-placed diplomatic sources said she was coming into the frame again after receiving tacit support from German chancellor Angela Merkel.

This could help Mr Hogan’s claim for the agriculture post in the incoming European Commission, as European officials had argued that Italy’s sights were on that post if Ms Mogherini was blocked.

Mr Hogan will hold his first formal meeting with commission president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker next week. A highly placed source close to the Government disclosed Taoiseach Enda Kenny met Mr Juncker twice during his campaign for the presidency and pressed Ireland’s claim for agriculture or trade portfolios.

The source said Mr Kenny had built up a very solid relationship with Mr Juncker and was an early and consistent backer of his campaign to succeed José Manuel Barroso.

“The Taoiseach has a lot of political capital built up with the president of the commission,” said the source. “The expectation is that we will get a reasonable portfolio that has substance and he [the Taoiseach] indicated to Mr Juncker on both occasions that we were looking for agriculture or trade.”

Mr Hogan is expected to meet Mr Juncker next Wednesday to settle portfolio matters. It is understood he has already had two detailed conversations with Martin Selmayr, the former chef de cabinet for outgoing Luxembourg commissioner Viviane Reding who is now fulfilling the same role for Mr Juncker.

The source indicated agriculture may be the likely portfolio for Mr Hogan. However, there are two other strong contenders: one is the current agriculture commissioner, Dacian Ciolos from Romania, the other is the former Spanish farm minster Miguel Arias Canete.

While the Austrian politician Franz Fischler served two terms as agriculture commissioner, the European Parliament is not keen on double terms practice.