Phil Hogan nominated as EU trade commissioner

Hogan will be tough and very fair crafting future trade deal with UK, Ursula von der Leyen says


The nomination of Ireland’s agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan to the trade portfolio, the commission’s president-elect said, would lay the basis for talks on a strong long-term relationship with the UK.

Mr Hogan had handled agriculture “brilliantly” Ursula von der Leyen told journalists in Brussels as she announced the responsibilities of her new team.

He would be tough and “very fair” in the important task of crafting a very good free trade agreement with the UK. “If a hard Brexit should happen it is not the end, but the beginning of a future relationship,” she said.

Mr Hogan said he was pleased to have been nominated to one of the most important economic portfolios. “International trade is the lifeline of the EU economy and its economic importance is illustrated by the fact that one in every seven jobs in the EU is supported by the export of goods and services.”

Mr Hogan said as a result of the European Commission’s trade agenda, the EU had become the “largest exporter of agri-food products in the world, with exports of €138 billion last year, supporting millions of jobs, many of them in Ireland.”

Mr Hogan said there was enormous untapped potential for job creation from the implementation of trade agreements.

“Ireland is a small, open, export-orientated economy, which has been a very significant beneficiary of EU trade policy and the growth of exports over many years.

“It is estimated that that exports to countries outside the EU support around 650,000 jobs in Ireland, particularly in such sectors as agri-food, pharma, medical devices, med-tech and financial services,” he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar congratulated Mr Hogan, describing his nomination as a “very positive development” for Ireland. The Taoiseach said: “Ireland sought a major economic brief in the new European Commission, and I am very satisfied that we have secured it.

“Commissioner Hogan will of course work for Europe as a whole, but it is a definite advantage to have an Irish person in charge of this crucial brief over the next five years.

“He will take the lead on the EU’s post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, as well as Mercosur and the EU’s trading relations with India, the US and China.

“He has proven to be vociferous on Brexit, and I am sure that this will continue in his new role,” he said.

Ms von der Leyen announced a repartition of portfolios that reflected a remarkable balancing of gender - 13 female and 14 male - by geography, east west and north south. It was also divided between mainstream political parties with two for socialists, three for the centre right and three for the centre. There was a clear prioritisation of policy issues, notably confronting climate change and the digital future . The commission from 1985 to 1988 had no women at all.

Ms von der Leyen has named eight co-ordinating vice-presidents. Three of them will have executive powers and are all outgoing commissioners, to be responsible for work across several directorates: Dutch VP Frans Timmermans, the socialist rival for the presidency, will take charge of the “European Green Deal”, while Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, the Renew Europe candidate, will help make Europe “fit for the digital age”.

Phil Hogan has been nominated as the European Union’s new chief trade negotiator. File photograph: Ray Ryan
Phil Hogan has been nominated as the European Union’s new chief trade negotiator. File photograph: Ray Ryan

Ms Vestager, whose robust policing of competition policy had earned her much respect, also keeps the high profile competition portfolio. This comes just a week before the Court of Justice of the European Union, hears the appeal against the commission €13 billion Apple state aids ruling against Ireland.

Outgoing Latvian VP Valdis Dombrovskis keeps his job of co-ordinating economic, monetary policies and financial services. He will work with Paolo Gentiloni, the former Italian PM who has specific responsibility for the economy and whose appointment at a time when Italy is at loggerheads with the commission over its deficit management raised eyebrows.

Ms von der Leyen insists, however that there is no conflict of interest . “You are Europeans first,” she says she told each of her nominees, “no longer representatives or messengers from your countries…. Decisions will be arrived at in the college.”

Indeed she has not shied away from giving portfolios to nominees from member states who have strong direct interests in the posts they will get. The outgoing Czech Vera Jourova is being given a VP brief to uphold “values and transparency” , which is code for putting manners on the wayward other Visegrad states.

A representative of the latter, Hungarian former justice minister, László Trócsányi, is being asked to deal with enlargement, notably the expansion of the Union into the Balkans where, like Hungary, the rule of law is a particular concern. He is likely to face a severe grilling by MEPs.

Greece’s nominee, Margaritis Schinas will have VP responsibility for migration, while Poland’s Janusz Wojciechowski is to get Hogan’s old brief to administer farm spending - Poland is the largest CAP recipient.

Among the prominent women are also Sylvie Goulard a former French defence minister, as commissioner for the internal market and also overseeing a new directorate-general for defence industry and space; Dubravaka Šuica, a former mayor of Dobrovnik in Croatia, as vice president for democracy and demography; and Kadri Simson, of Estonia, as energy commissioner.

Outgoing Bulgarian Mariya Gabriel will take charge of innovation and youth, a large brief that includes the huge research budget and the popular Erasmus student programme.

With one commissioner per member state - at Ireland’s insistence a few years ago - the 28-strong commission is somewhat unwieldy with critics suggesting that some jobs may be less substantive than their names suggest. But Ms von der Leyen defended the repartition of roles, insisting there was a job for everyone.

“We have a structure that focuses on tasks, not hierarchies,” von der Leyen said at a news conference at the Commission headquarters. “We need to be able to deliver on the issues that matter the most, rapidly and with determination.”

The president-elect also promised that the commission will conduct its business in a paperless way and will delete one regulation for every new one it initiates.

In the next few weeks all the nominees will face hearings in the European Parliament which has the right to reject the whole team. The new commission takes office on November 1st.