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Sunday 15 December 2019

Hogan lands €60bn EU agriculture job

Juncker to confirm ex-minister as European Commissioner

Environment Minister Phil Hogan
Environment Minister Phil Hogan
When he was in cabinet Phil Hogan, along with his Labour colleague Brendan Howlin, put Waterford and Carlow institutes of technology under strong pressure to agree to merge and come up with a viable joint TU plan.
John Downing

John Downing

IRELAND's new EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has secured the plum Agriculture job, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The former environment minister will be handed control of 40pc of the EU's €150bn yearly budget - a total of €60bn.

Mr Hogan's new role, which includes responsibility for rural affairs, is a boost to Ireland's €24bn agri-food business, which accounts for 150,000 jobs and exports around the globe.

The appointment also strengthens Ireland's political clout in Brussels and other key European capitals, as the Agriculture Commissioner is seen as a pivotal figure, capable of building political links and influence across the entire EU system.

"Mr Hogan's appointment to agriculture reflects confidence in his deal-making skills and the Taoiseach's relationship with incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker," a source said.

The 54-year-old, a Fine Gael TD for his native Kilkenny for the past 25 years, will receive a salary and allowances of almost €300,000 per year.

Most of this is subject to EU taxes, which are expected to cut about €100,000 from his take-home pay.

The job allocation is expected to be formally confirmed later today in Brussels by Mr Juncker, who will also announce the portfolios given to commissioners from each of the other 27 member states.

The prestigious appointment reflects well on Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is respected in EU circles. Mr Kenny lobbied hard with Mr Juncker, a former Luxembourg PM, for a portfolio with a strong role in economic development, and agriculture is rated as such a post.

However, Mr Hogan will still face a stern challenge when he is forced to go through a public ratification hearing at the European Parliament next month.

Several Irish MEPs who oppose his nomination are likely to lobby their counterparts from other countries in an attempt to veto Mr Hogan's appointment.

During his three years in the Department of Environment, Mr Hogan pushed through two unpopular taxes - the local property tax and water charges.

Through a long political career, which began with election to Kilkenny County Council in 1982, there have been periodic bouts of controversy.

Mr Hogan has been a Fine Gael TD for Carlow-Kilkenny since 1989 and a key organisational figure within the party in its battle for survival and then in its return to government in 2011 after 14 years in opposition.

He was also a key ally of Mr Kenny when they successfully defended against a leadership heave in June 2010. He was rewarded with the job of environment minister in March 2011.

In a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker after his election as the new Commission president, the Taoiseach described Mr Hogan as someone capable of taking "tough but necessary decisions" and "seeing them through."

Along with property taxes and water charges, there has also been more recent controversy about the extent of his knowledge of Irish Water's spending on outside consultants.

The final EU hurdle for Mr Hogan will be the ordeal of a tough public ratification hearing at the European Parliament expected next month, probably before members of the parliament's agriculture committee.

MEPs have in the past threatened to use their power to veto the entire commission if certain nominees were not moved or replaced by another person.

Five Irish MEPs, three from Sinn Fein and two Independents, have not ruled out the prospect of voting against the entire Commission if Mr Hogan's appointment goes ahead. It will fall to colleagues like Fine Gael MEPs Mairead McGuinness, Brian Hayes, Sean Kelly and Deirdre Clune to marshal a defence campaign at the hearings and subsequent votes.

Back in 2004, the MEPs forced the Italian government to withdraw their nominee, Rocco Buttiglione, whose responsibilities included civil liberties. They objected to his views on homosexuality and women's role in society.

In 1995, Irish Commissioner Padraig Flynn faced difficulties, around his re-nomination to a job in charge of social policy, over comments he had made about Mary Robinson in the 1990 Irish presidential election campaign. A compromise had to be worked out whereby Flynn's chairmanship of a women's affairs committee went to then-Commission President Jacques Santer.

When Mr Hogan's nomination was first announced last July, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams used Dail privilege to raise objections. He cited the abandoning of a planning inquiry in Kilkenny, which had been established by the previous Environment Minister, John Gormley of the Green Party.

Independent MEP Nessa Childers has written to three separate groups raising questions about a case involving the housing of a Traveller family in Kilkenny and warning that Mr Hogan's appointment would be "a step backwards for equality".

A spokesman for Mr Hogan has dismissed these claims, and he can be expected to present a robust case at next month's hearings. Much will depend on his performance at these hearings, where excerpts are likely to be televised.

Apart from the hearings themselves, the Irish MEPs can be expected to lobby colleagues of other nationalities to either back or sack Mr Hogan.

Assuming he survives the hearings he will take up office in November.

On entering office, he will swear an oath to uphold the EU and not act on behalf of any particular nation or interest grouping.

But in practice he will be expected to advocate on occasion for his home country.

Ireland last held the agriculture portfolio through Ray MacSharry in the years 1989-1992.

Irish Independent

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