October has turned out to be busy month in Brussels, with the two European Parliament hearings for Ireland’s Mairead McGuinness and executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis, from Latvia.
Former vice-president of the European Parliament, McGuinness, who has been an MEP since 2004, takes over the Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union portfolio, while Latvia’s Dombrovskis, with oversight over EU economic policy, will steer trade policy for the rest of the mandate (until 2024).
McGuinness was approved by her parliamentary colleagues on October 7th by an overwhelming majority – 583 in favour, 75 against and 37 abstentions – while the new EU Trade chief secured 515 votes in favour, 110 against and 70 abstentions in the secret ballot.
The reshuffle follows the resignation of Phil Hogan at the end of August over his attendance at the controversial Oireachtas golf dinner at the Station House in Clifden on August 19. Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One, the Ardee woman said she would hit the ground running in an area which is vital for Ireland, as the EU is reeling from the impact of the pandemic. Having lost the coveted trade portfolio, Financial Services is still seen as a significant brief and is highly relevant to the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Talks are still under way as to what access the City of London will have to the single market in financial services. On the day her mother-in-law passed away, October 7th, McGuinness told news anchor Caitríona Perry that she pledged to ensure capital flows to areas where it is needed most as a result of the current crisis.
As Ireland’s new Commissioner, she said she would look at the European agenda and work for ‘all of Europe.’
During the three-hour audition on October 2nd, her colleague Dombrovskis agreed that the EU was ‘facing many important challenges’ on trade, reminding members of the International Trade Committee that he himself served as an MEP from 2004 to 2009. The former Latvian Premier (2009-2014) stressed the importance of the dossier, pointing out that it ‘supports one in seven high-quality European jobs.’
The Commission was conducting a wide-ranging review and he would ‘bring forward a new roadmap for trade policy.’ It would ‘strengthen our toolbox,’ enabling the EU to defend itself against … and leverage its role as a global trading power house.
‘Only a Europe that is open to the world,’ he said, could shape international trading policy. One of his first priorities will be to make changes in the rules-based governance of the WTO and Europe had the ‘influence and credibility to lead this reform effort,’ he said.
The 49-year-old also stressed the importance of sustainability and climate, noting that ‘trade can deliver real results here.’
• Rose O’Donovan is the editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based agricultural policy newsletter AGRA FACTS.