Irish Times view on a new EU commissioner: trade post key priority
Government should ascertain if anyone would retain trade job and nominate them quickly
Politics, a hardheaded business, moves on quickly and the Government now faces the pressing question of finding a replacement for the former European Commissioner Phil Hogan after his dramatic resignation on Wednesday night. Potential candidates are already sounding out support, examining what might be possible, or not. Politicians obsess about nothing more than jobs for politicians, though they would be wise to appreciate that their enthusiasm for the subject is not shared by all.
A number of possible candidates of clout and capability have already been identified in the speculation. They include Cabinet ministers, MEPs and former senior officials. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who has wide experience in Europe and would be ideally placed to manage the Brexit-related aspects of the job, is the name most often mentioned around Government circles, but has yet to express interest.
The name of David O’Sullivan, a former senior Commission official, has also been doing the rounds. As a former head of the Commission’s civil service, but also a former head of its trade directorate, O’Sullivan is highly qualified from a technocratic point of view. But politicians here have traditionally seen it as a political job.
To complicate matters, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has asked the Government to nominate a man and a woman for the post, though this is a request, rather than a requirement of the European treaties. Serious candidates are unlikely to put themselves forward if they believe they could be publicly rejected.
The priority for Ireland should be retaining the trade portfolio. Although Brexit negotiations are conducted by Michel Barnier, who reports to the Commission president, the trade commissioner will play a significant role and would be an important voice in the protection of Irish interests as the EU seeks to conclude a trade deal with the UK before the end-of-year deadline.
While von der Leyen has made clear that the allocation of responsibilities will be a decision she will make in due course, holding onto the trade portfolio must play a central role in the inevitable back-channel contacts between Dublin and Brussels over the coming days. The The fall-out from the Oireachtas golf dinner has dominated Irish politics for long enough – though the fate of Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe remains unfinished business. There are immense and immediate challenges ; the return to school, the leaving certificate results, the sudden surge of Covid infections and the longer-term plan to live with the virus are all make-or-break issues that require the Government’s full attention. It is time to give it.