Monday 16 December 2019

Taoiseach is pushing 'tough guy' Hogan for EU reform role

Phil Hogan
Phil Hogan
John Downing

John Downing

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told the new EU boss that Phil Hogan is well qualified to push through reform and change in his new Commission role.

A letter from Mr Kenny to incoming Commission President Jean Claude Juncker also strongly pushes for the job of agriculture commissioner or another post with an economic development role. The document was sent by the Taoiseach some weeks ago telling President Juncker about Mr Hogan's nomination but it only emerged in Brussels yesterday.

The warm tone of the letter reveals a good personal relationship between the Taoiseach and the Commission President.

It also pays a glowing tribute to Phil Hogan who pushed through unpopular local property taxes and water charges among other things during his three years as Environment Minister.

"Phil brings a wealth of experience of delivering difficult policies and real change in difficult times. In terms of driving structural reform in key sectors, taking very tough but necessary decisions in the long term interest of our country and seeing them through, I do not believe that there are many to compare with Phil Hogan's track record of delivery," the Taoiseach writes.

The Taoiseach also insists that Phil Hogan's abilities should command a post with responsibility which will maintain Ireland's standing within the EU. "I hope that you will assign Phil to a position which is in line with the strength of his skills and with Ireland's political priorities," Mr Kenny continues.

The Taoiseach stresses that the EU must continue to work for increased jobs and economic growth underpinned by better economic competitiveness. "We prioritise thriving agriculture," Mr Kenny adds.

Phil Hogan was in Brussels on Thursday to meet with President Juncker. They spoke for half an hour but it is understood that no firm portfolio offer was made to Mr Hogan.

Late on Friday President Juncker announced his 27-member team as the last of the member states nominated their commissioners. But he will not announce his allocation of portfolios until later next week, possibly on Wednesday.

There is strong speculation that Ireland will secure the agriculture post. While the topic is not the all-encompassing power house it once was, it still accounts for 40 pc of the €150bn EU annual budget, and occupies a pivotal position within the system.

Ireland last held the agriculture post in the years 1989-1992 when Ray MacSharry drove through significant reforms. The Commission has fewer than 10 'real jobs' which have powers and/or a significant budget.

The new commission team has nine women, the same number as the outgoing administration headed by Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso. This appears to head off a threat from the European Parliament that it would use its powers to veto the entire Commission on gender equality grounds.

The new Commission is due to take over on November 1 next but a number of hurdles need to be cleared before that can happen. All 27 nominees face the considerable ordeal of public ratification hearings in the European Parliament next month.

The MEPs do not have the power to approve or reject individual commissioners. But they have in the past threatened to use the 'nuclear option' of rejecting the entire team unless certain changes were made.

In 2004, they forced Italy to withdraw the nomination of Rocco Buttiglione, whose portfolio was to include civil liberties, for his views on homosexuality and women's role in society.

Back in 1995 Irish Commissioner Padraig Flynn was among a number of commissioners designate who had difficulties and a compromise had to be worked out over his chairmanship of an EU women's affairs committee.

Some Irish MEPs have already objected to Mr Hogan's nomination.

Hogan will bow out of politics after Europe stint

Former Environment Minister Phil Hogan has flatly rejected the notion that his appointment as Ireland's EU Commissioner was a move by Fine Gael to get him out of the way before the next general election .

Mr Hogan, who steered through highly unpopular measures during his controversial ministry including water charges and the local property tax, insisted his move to Europe is a reflection of his years of experience after 32 years in domestic politics.

He said the nomination for the choice commissioner role was for "a job well done" and was not part of an election strategy on the part of Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Mr Hogan said he makes no apology for steering through policies which he conceded did take money from peoples pockets. But he is proud to have been part of a government that "saved the country".

Mr Hogan said in an interview with the Weekend Review while he will remain a member of Fine Gael and will be available to offer the party advice during the next general election campaign he is definitely finished with domestic politics.

Full interview: see weekend review

Irish Independent

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