Phil Hogan ‘exploring idea’ of WTO director general role

EU commissioner is giving strong consideration to applying for post, sources say

If Phil Hogan applied and was successful in becoming WTO director general, it would mean the next government would have to choose a replacement commissioner. Photograph: Eric Luke

If Phil Hogan applied and was successful in becoming WTO director general, it would mean the next government would have to choose a replacement commissioner. Photograph: Eric Luke

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European commissioner and former minister for the environment Phil Hogan is considering applying to be director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Well-placed sources in Dublin and Brussels said Mr Hogan, who was last year appointed EU commissioner for trade, is giving strong consideration to applying for the post.

One said Mr Hogan is “exploring the idea” and another said he had been asked by a number of WTO member states to apply for the position.

“This has only arisen in the past fortnight,” a source added. Two weeks ago, the current WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo, a former Brazilian diplomat who has held post since 2013, announced he would end his term of office in September, a year before he was due to step down.

Heavily criticised

The WTO is responsible for setting trade rules and has been heavily criticised in recent years by US president Donald Trump.

“He has not made up his mind,” a source added of Mr Hogan, who would hope to get the backing of the EU if he applies for the job. Others said Arancha González, the Spanish minister for foreign affairs, and Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister for trade, are also interested in securing the backing of the EU.

The issue is likely to be discussed at the next European Council gathering, which will happen remotely on June 19th. Nominations for the WTO position open on June 8th and close on July 8th. A replacement for Mr Azevêdo must be in place by September.

Mr Hogan was given the trade portfolio by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen last year after a five-year term as agriculture commissioner.

If he were to become head of the WTO, Mr Hogan would follow in the footsteps of Peter Sutherland, who served as attorney general in two Fine Gael-led governments before becoming European commissioner for competition policy between 1985 and 1989 and founding director general of the WTO between 1993 and 1995.

If Mr Hogan applied and was successful in becoming WTO director general, it would mean the next government would have to choose a replacement commissioner, a significant political plum.