Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (France)- EU Irish Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, has been forced to resign from the European Commission for breaches of the Covid regulations. He had hoped to become the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
It is a blow for Ireland who relied on him to give them credibility in the Brussels corridors of power. It is also embarrassing for the Commission.
“It was becoming increasingly clear that the controversy concerning my recent visit to Ireland was becoming a distraction from my work as an EU Commissioner and would undermine my work in the key months ahead,” Hogan said in a statement.
“I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland – the country that I have been so proud to represent as a public servant for most of my adult life - caused such concern, unease and upset.”
Hogan attended a golf dinner last week that outraged the Irish public and led to the resignation of an Irish minister and the disciplining of several lawmakers. He had insisted that he adhered to all rules during the trip.
The commissioner, who oversees trade policy for the world’s biggest trading bloc, apologized three times for attending the event with some 80 others. But he came under pressure when it became clear he had not completed 14 days of self-isolation in line with the rules for incoming travelers to Ireland.
The 80-strong gathering, a number well in excess of existing restrictions, had already resulted in a number of senior figures resigning, including Ireland's Agriculture Minister.
Hogan was asked by von der Leyen to provide a detailed account of his 20-day trip, which included three visits to the county of Kildare, two made, he said, to collect essential trade documents and his passport even though it was in a local lockdown.
Irish Prime Minister Michéal Martin and his deputy Leo Varadkar, leader of the Fine Gael party for whom Hogan served as a minister, said on Tuesday there were clear breaches of COVID-19 public health guidelines during Hogan’s trip.
Hogan has been an important figure in Brussels. After serving with the agricultural brief, his promotion to be trade commissioner was seen as a big coup for the Irish, and a sign of how closely their concerns would continue to be taken amid the post-Brexit trade negotiations.
Martin Selmayr, the controversial former Commission secretary-general who served as right hand to Jean-Claude Juncker, said, “Big Phil was a key actor over the past five years. Without him there would have been no EU-Japan agreement, no Juncker-Trump soybeans deal. He made a mistake, true. But he served Europe remarkably. Thanks a lot Phil, you leave big shoes to fill.”
Hogan was also a leading opponent of Brexit. It is unusual for a Commissioner to resign from the EU in such circumstances and could indicate that powerful influences that are not so concerned with Irish interests and want a settlement with the UK, were secretly happy to see him go.
Despite grandstanding from Brussels, Paris and Berlin about the UK-EU talks going nowhere, a settlement of some sort is important to Germany and other states with the big favorable commercial balance the EU has with the UK.
Ireland will now have to find a replacement but it is doubtful if he or she will have as much influence in Brussels as Hogan.