Sunday 22 September 2019

Editorial: 'Hogan's promotion is good news for Ireland and EU'

Phil Hogan. Picture: Fergal Phillips
Phil Hogan. Picture: Fergal Phillips


Phil Hogan went to Brussels under a cloud this time five years ago. As the author of two unpopular taxes - one of which did not fly at all - he was characterised as a "busted flush" in Irish politics, with speculation he might not retain his Dáil seat in the following election.

Mr Hogan had landed one of the key jobs in the policy-guiding Commission in charge of agriculture which is still among the few fully formed EU policies, and even yet accounts for 40pc of the €150bn annual budget. It is a hugely influential role, because all the member states have farmers, and all member governments from time to time need a helping hand.

That job is tailor-made for a seasoned politician who knows how to do a favour - but also, more crucially, knows how to get returns on some of those favours. It is the kind of political savvy - or "savoir-faire" as they say in Brussels - learned at Irish country marts and fairs.

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When the Kilkenny man went to Brussels, few people anywhere expected that Brexit would follow inside two years. But even before that, there was a succession of events which took him to policy areas vastly beyond his previous experience.

First up, in the autumn of 2014, was the fallout from the brutal Russia-Ukraine conflict. This led to EU trade sanctions against Russia, which caused huge income loss across all the neighbouring former eastern bloc member states. Mr Hogan took the best of advice and came through with some credit. His work continued to lead him across issues which took him far beyond his own Irish farm experience of dairy, beef and tillage.

When the Brexit referendum happened, he was the only EU Commissioner, bar the UK incumbent, allowed by the Brussels apparatus to campaign in that spring-summer 2016 campaign.

He toured UK agricultural shows on occasions, putting forward the merits of the Remain case.

He also played a strong role in the agri-food side of international trade negotiations. Late last year, he was noted for helping broker an EU-Japan trade deal.

As his five-year term drew to an end, it was clear that the Irish Commissioner's stock was running pretty high. In the European press, amid the chatterati in the EU capital, and across agri-business lobbyists, Mr Hogan was highly rated.

In summer 2014, then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny successfully lobbied for Mr Hogan to be Agriculture Commissioner. In the past three months, the current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar re-nominated Mr Hogan for a second stint, and successfully moved on efforts to secure a heavy-duty portfolio.

Phil Hogan's designation as EU Trade Commissioner is significant. It means someone with full knowledge of Irish interests will have a key role in Brexit. It is a testimony to five years' work and further evidence that Ireland's commitment to the EU is appreciated.

Mr Hogan is a very capable political performer who has long left Irish controversies behind him. This nomination has the potential to benefit Ireland and the EU.

Irish Independent

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