Monday 9 December 2019

Editorial: 'Hogan has key role amid Pledge of greater EU unity'

Promotion: Phil Hogan has been named as new European Trade Commissioner.
Picture: PA
Promotion: Phil Hogan has been named as new European Trade Commissioner. Picture: PA
Editorial

Editorial

Amid all the hubbub and noise it is easy to miss the reality that the European Union's new policy- guiding Commission took office yesterday. It comes one month later than planned, but with promises of a more united Europe ready to face major challenges, especially fighting climate change.

The new EU Commission president is Germany's Ursula von der Leyen who, like some of her predecessors, was a compromise candidate and little known before her appointment. But her success in this crucial job will determine the fate of many ordinary citizens across the 28 member states, not least in Ireland North and south.

Ms Von der Leyen takes the reins just as the EU is faced with a mountain of difficulties. Chief of these is the EU-UK Brexit divorce, but there are also rising trade tensions with superpowers China and the United States of America.

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At a short ceremony, Ms Von der Leyen said all of the new EU leadership faced great responsibility on behalf of 500 million citizens. The attendees included new European Central Bank (ECB) President Christine Lagarde.

Ms Lagarde, who took over the ECB last month, stressed that the union had only recently moved on from the damaging debt crisis and must look to the bigger future. She expressed the hope that the EU can move from crisis management to an era of positive economic and social development.

Ms Von der Leyen has replaced EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker as president, who will be a hard act to follow. The former Luxembourg prime minister was a firm friend of Ireland through all the Brexit woes and deserves this nation's gratitude.

Ireland's EU Commissioner Phil Hogan will have a crucial role in the new Brussels executive. He moves from agriculture, which controls almost 40pc of the EU budget, to the pivotal role of trade commissioner.

In that new job, Mr Hogan will lead negotiations framing an EU-UK relationship after Brexit becomes a reality. As EU trade commissioner he must promote the EU's best interests - but it is good that such a role falls to somebody who understands where Irish interests lie.

The new EU Commission president has from day one stressed a clear ambition to make Europe a global powerhouse on green policy. The European Parliament will hold an extraordinary session on December 11, on the eve of an EU leaders' summit, to receive the commission's first climate proposals, which are called the 'Green New Deal'.

Ms Von der Leyen's first trip today will be to the COP25 meeting in Madrid, which she has said will be a "starting point" for her plans.

On Friday, she will go to Ethiopia to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The last five-year EU term has told us to expect the unexpected amid much upheaval, including the Brexit vote in 2016.

But Ms Von der Leyen deserves our good wishes as her presidential term begins.

Irish Independent

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