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John Downing: 'Hogan in role of EU trade commissioner will give us some clout at challenging time'

 

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Incoming: Phil Hogan is to be named EU trade commissioner for the next five years. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Incoming: Phil Hogan is to be named EU trade commissioner for the next five years. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Incoming: Phil Hogan is to be named EU trade commissioner for the next five years. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Phil Hogan is set to be named as EU trade commissioner for the next five years - a job which will see him supervising future European trade relations with the UK after Brexit happens.

The new commission president, Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, is due to name her new 27-member team to guide EU policy for the years 2019-2024. Provided the nominees are ratified by the European Parliament after questions at public hearings later this month, the new Brussels executive will take office from November 1.

Ms von der Leyen, a close associate of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, emerged as a compromise candidate in July. She has already achieved her goal of gender balance in her new team which comprises 13 women and 14 men.

The new commission president will announce her team and their responsibilities in Brussels today. Mr Hogan, who occupied the agriculture and rural development portfolio since autumn 2014, was renominated by the Irish Government earlier this summer.

As agriculture commissioner he controlled 40pc of the EU's yearly €150bn budget and his performance over the past term was well rated in Brussels and the key EU capitals.

His move to the more senior trade portfolio is a promotion and should help maintain Irish clout in the EU administration at a time of immense challenge caused by Brexit and other issues.

As an EU commissioner, Mr Hogan will be sworn to uphold European laws and norms and act independently. But his understanding of Irish concerns will prove helpful and it has also long been accepted in Brussels that all commissioners have a role in reflecting the view and needs of their original home countries.

Ms von der Leyen, the former German defence minister, had said before inviting EU governments to name their candidates that she hoped to achieve gender balance and thus asked for two nominees, a man and a woman, from each member state. Ireland was among the countries which did not send in two names, but enough qualified women were nominated to allow her to name the EU Commission's largest female contingent in its 62-year history.

Irish farmers will have to get used to a new EU agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, of Poland. He is a former leader of the farmers' party which later allied itself with the right-wing Justice and Law Party which leads the Polish government.

Mr Wojciechowski is currently Poland's nominee at the EU's audit service based in Luxembourg. But he has a strong background in farming and farm politics, and farmer unions are likely to give him the benefit of the doubt for a time at least.

Giving such a big budget post to Poland is seen as a move to improve relations between Brussels and Warsaw. It is also a gesture towards the former Eastern Bloc member states seen to have lost out in the division of the EU's big jobs this past summer.

Mr Hogan's new posting is a big challenge for the former Fine Gael strategist and environment minister. The current EU-UK impasse concerns the terms of the separation arrangements or the so-called Withdrawal Agreement.

If there is a last-minute resolution, things will move on to forging a new EU-UK trading arrangement, something which will be of crucial concern to Ireland. If there is a no-deal outcome, such negotiations will become even more long-winded and difficult.

In his job in charge of agriculture, he was already close to EU international trade talks. He was credited with helping broker a compromise which helped unlock a lucrative EU-Japan trade deal last year.

There is already precedent for the agriculture commissioner taking on trade. In the early 1990s Frans Andriessen of the Netherlands moved from the farm job to trade.

Irish Independent