Wednesday 21 August 2019

Hogan set to be renominated as EU commissioner

Cabinet to confirm outgoing agriculture chief for another five-year term despite Mercosur deal row

Phil Hogan: He will become only the second Irish politician to hold two terms back-to-back. Photo: Reuters
Phil Hogan: He will become only the second Irish politician to hold two terms back-to-back. Photo: Reuters
John Downing

John Downing

Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan is today set to be confirmed in the prestigious Brussels post for another five-year term.

Mr Hogan, who has served in the policy-guiding Commission in charge of agriculture and rural affairs since 2014, will become only the second Irish politician to get two terms back-to-back.

The other person to receive that honour, Pádraig Flynn of Fianna Fáil, was re-appointed in 1994 after he had served a shorter two-year interim stint, first time around, due to reorganisation of EU law-making structures.

There had been some speculation in recent days that the former Fine Gael minister and election organiser might lose out due to the anger of Irish farmers over the EU-Mercosur draft deal allowing large quantities of South American meat into European markets.

But today the Cabinet is expected to give the former Kilkenny TD the nod for another five years in the post, which has a salary package of €300,000 per year.

Mr Hogan, a supporter of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's quest for power in 2017, has impressed in the EU agriculture job, which controls 38pc of the EU's yearly budget of €140bn.

He may now be in line for a job with continuing clout in Brussels, as a portfolio with a big budget, or direct EU powers, would help Ireland at a time of perilous change due to Brexit and other issues.

In charge of agriculture over the last five years, the former Kilkenny TD has impressed on a variety of fronts. Soon after his arrival in the Brussels executive, he managed the fallout from a Russian trade boycott caused by the conflict with Ukraine.

He played a pivotal role in securing an EU-Japan trade deal, was the only Brussels figure allowed canvass in the UK Brexit referendum, and was a leading figure at expressing EU frustration with London's mishandling of those negotiations.

He has built a broad rapport across the Brussels network, and, with EU member state governments, he has delivered a draft EU farm budget for the post-Brexit years up to 2027 - which involves plugging a €12bn hole arising from the expected removal of the UK's budgetary contributions - while also keeping an eye on Irish interests at a critical time.

Phil Hogan left Irish politics during recessionary times in 2014, as his name was associated with two new taxes, the ill-starred domestic water charges and the local property tax.

He had helped then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny stave off a leadership heave in June 2010, and also worked as an election planner for a February 2011 campaign in which Fine Gael had the biggest win in its entire history.

In summer 2017, his influence helped Leo Varadkar become Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach.

Phil Hogan is the 11th person to hold the Irish EU Commission post since we joined the then-European Economic Community in January 1973. Another Irish Commissioner, Dick Burke of Fine Gael, was also twice nominated for the job, firstly in late 1976 by then-Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave.

After Mr Burke had returned to the Dáil in 1981, the then Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Charlie Haughey re-nominated him to Brussels in hopes of winning the resultant Dublin West by-election in May 1982.

But Mr Haughey's ploy backfired, Fine Gael retained the seat, and the Fianna Fáil minority government lost power soon afterwards.

The EU post is in practice the biggest political plum in the Taoiseach's gift, but several Irish Commissioners have enhanced Ireland's reputation in Brussels.

Irish Independent

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