AS expected, Ireland’s Phil Hogan secured the trade portfolio when the future Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen unveiled her new team on September 10th.
The move is seen as a major coup for Dublin as the EU prepares to thrash out a trade deal with the UK once it leaves the bloc on October 31st. Since June 2016, the Tullaroan man has emerged as a key voice on Brexit, especially on the negative impact that the UK’s exit would have in Ireland and other Member States.
Despite backlash following the political agreement on the EU-Mercosur trade deal – particularly the potential impact on the Irish beef sector – the Irish Commissioner is seen as a skilled negotiator and a politician with gravitas at the College table and beyond. During the ‘big reveal’ in the Berlaymont press room, von der Leyen described Hogan ‘as an excellent and very fair negotiator.’
Over the past five years as Agriculture Commissioner, Hogan has been very active on the trade front. He has led numerous trade missions to China, Mexico, the Gulf States, Australia and New Zealand, accompanied by leading representatives from the agri-food sector throughout Europe. Plus he has not been shy in getting involved in the Brexit debate, launching an attack during the summer on the ‘unelected’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who risked putting the peace process and Good Friday Agreement in jeopardy.
Commenting on the appointment, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was a ‘definitive advantage’ for Ireland. ‘This is undoubtedly one of the most important economic portfolios in the College of Commissioners and the appointment comes at a very important time for the EU,’ the Irish leader added.
Since his arrival in Brussels in November 2014, Hogan has managed to lose his ‘bully boy’ image from his time in Irish politics and has gained respect from across the political spectrum. In many ways, the 59-year-old has reinvented himself and, since the get-go, he has been keen to position himself for the trade file under the next mandate (2019-2024).
With Brexit coming down the tracks, he could see the benefits of having a ‘green jersey’ at the table and with a general election on the horizon back home, he was unlikely to return to politics within the Fine Gael fold.
Meanwhile, Polish politician and lawyer Janusz Wojciechowski takes over the reins as Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. The former MEP (2004-2016) is currently Poland’s representative at the European Court of Auditors (ECA) and a former vice-chair of the EP’s Agri Committee.
Cypriot lawmaker Stella Kyriakides will replace Lithuanian Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis and take over the reins in charge of Health and Food Safety.
• Rose O’Donovan is the editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based publication Agra Facts.