Thursday 29 September 2016

Hogan seen as 'secret weapon' for Remain side

Published 20/06/2016 | 02:30

Phil Hogan: has told farmers the EU serves their interests
Phil Hogan: has told farmers the EU serves their interests

Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has been dubbed 'Brussels secret weapon' in the campaign to persuade British voters to back the Remain campaign in Thursday's referendum.

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While other EU commissioners and bureaucrats have been kept at home, Mr Hogan has played a high-profile role on the canvass trail for the past two months.

However, his efforts may not have met with total success as large numbers of farmers are ready to vote Leave.

The influential Brussels magazine 'Politico' has dubbed Mr Hogan "a secret weapon" and reported that neither the EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, nor his high-profile first vice-president, Frans Timmermans, had visited the UK at all this year.

In total, just five of the 28 commissioners have visited since the referendum got into full stride in May, after its official launch on April 15 and, bar Mr Hogan, they have kept a low profile.

Besides Commissioner Hogan, only the British commissioner, Jonathan Hill, who is responsible for financial services, has actively canvassed for the Remain side.

The Agriculture Commissioner has travelled to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, publicly arguing that EU policies are in farmers' best interests.

Some Brussels diplomats believe that Mr Hogan "passes as not especially foreign" among British voters - especially outside of the big metropolitan centres.

One British source suggested that only an Irish or Dutch person would be accepted in giving an opinion on the referendum, whereas US president Obama was rebuffed for his intervention on behalf of the Remain side.

Commissioner Hogan controls the EU's Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), which still accounts for almost 40pc of the EU budget or a total of €58bn per year.

Britain's farmers get almost €3bn in farm grants each year and this amounts to 53pc of farm incomes.

Within the European Union, Britain has been the most strident and longstanding critic of CAP, urging that it needs to be reduced.

'Remain' campaigners insist that if Britain leaves the European Union, the CAP payments would not be replaced on the same scale by any national subsidy scheme.

A spokesman for Mr Hogan told the Irish Independent that they had no comment to make and that the commissioner accepted speaking engagements all over the 28 member states and beyond.

Writing on his own blog, Mr Hogan stressed that he would not be advising anyone on how they should vote.

But in a speech delivered last month at Queen's University in Belfast, Mr Hogan pointed out that Northern Ireland's farmers got 87pc of their income from EU payments.

"Were it not for European assistance, many farms would not only generate significant losses but would struggle to survive," he said.

"Farmers in Northern Ireland are able to capitalise on 53 free trade agreements negotiated by the EU," the commissioner told his Belfast audience.

Free trade

However, his campaign impact maybe limited - surveys show farmers lean towards Leave, with one poll for the magazine 'Farmers' Weekly' suggesting the figure was as high as 58pc.

Brussels officials say this is mainly due to a price slump in all key farm sectors and a weariness among farmers everywhere with "EU red tape."

Opinion in Britain's political leadership is also divided, with the senior agriculture minister, Liz Truss, lining up on the Remain side, while junior farming minister George Eustice is advocating a Leave vote.

Mr Eustice told journalists at the weekend that British farmers should be compensated via an insurance scheme modelled on the system that is used in Canada.

Irish Independent

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