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big phil's gig

Explainer: Phil Hogan's set to be named as Agriculture Commissioner ... but what happens next?

Some Irish TDs have been threatening to make life difficult for Big Phil during the nomination process. But can they cause that much trouble for the divisive former minister?

Updated at 8.46am. 

SO, PHIL HOGAN’s in line for a big job in Europe, as you may have heard.

The new head of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, is set to reveal who gets which job in the new line-up this morning at 11am (Irish time) having confirmed the full list of names last week…

Hogan, the former environment minister, is currently Ireland’s ‘commissioner-designate’.

He met Juncker for talks about his role last week — and while the Irish Government’s been attempting to dampen speculation in recent weeks, it now looks all-but-certain that he’ll be named as Agriculture Commissioner.

Enda Kenny, after a meeting with Jean Claude Juncker last month.

There’s 27  jobs to be filled in the Commission, and the nominees are to be grilled by committees in the European Parliament before being confirmed in the role.

Various Irish MEPS have been voicing their opposition to Hogan’s candidacy in the last week or so — not least Independent Nessa Childers, who said that it would be a “step backwards for equality” if he were appointed to the Commission (in any role).

So what happens after today’s announcement from Juncker? Is the input of Irish opposition figures likely to hamper Hogan’s chances? And, all going well, when will he be confirmed in the role?

Your questions, answered…

What happens at the committee?

If named, as expected, in the agriculture job, Hogan is set to appear before the European Parliament Agriculture Committee for a hearing later this month.

As part of the session, he’s likely to come under pressure on his record to date from Sinn Féín’s Matt Carthy and his old adversary on issue of Irish Water, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (pictured below). 

PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Mairead McGuinness, the Fine Gael MEP, also sits on the agriculture panel.

In addition to the oral hearing, the commissioner-designate will also be asked to provide written replies to questions from members. They’ll also have to submit a CV and declaration of financial interests.

As part of the three-hour web-streamed hearing, Hogan will be expected to make an opening speech of not more than 15 minutes, before taking questions.

Judging by the tone of this statement from SF’s Carthy at the weekend, the ex-minister’s in for a pretty torrid time…

Phil Hogan is a very bad candidate for the job.  Mr Hogan has been at the centre of controversies in almost every brief he has ever held.  His nomination process will be a national embarrassment.

The statement continued:

As a member of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee I want to see an Irish commissioner hold this post. But, more importantly, I want to see a better deal for rural Ireland and a fairer distribution of agricultural supports so as to ensure the viability of Irish Family Farms. There is no evidence that Phil Hogan will even attempt to deliver upon these needs.

Taking all of that into account, the merits or otherwise of sending Phil Hogan to Europe will already have been considered by the Government here, when putting him forward —and by Junker, the new Commission president, when allocating the various jobs. In other words, opposition from the Sinn Féin MEPs and others will come as no surprise to anyone.

According to Dr Karen Devine, who lectures on EU politics at DCU:

The President would be aware of all this. It’s not going to be a surprise how a candidate is being viewed before going before a committee. He’ll know in advance what kind of cards are stacked up against various candidates.

The Commissioner-Designate always has to have a chance to defend himself, and to defend his record.

The responsible committee in each area has to finalise its evaluation of a nominee within 24 hours following each hearing. It can also ask for further information in writing.

AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

European Commissioner designate for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva, from Bulgaria, speaks during her hearing at the European Parliament in 2010. 

So can the committee reject a nominee outright?


But it can publicly state its opposition, and make things difficult for a candidate.

In the past, this has led to candidates stepping aside from the process — notably in 2004, when Italian politician Rocco Buttiglione had to withdraw his candidacy to become Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner.

That followed his comments on homosexuality and the role of women during his confirmation hearing. A sample remark:

I may think that homosexuality is a sin, and this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime.

AP / Press Association Images - Rocco Buttiglione AP / Press Association Images - Rocco Buttiglione / Press Association Images - Rocco Buttiglione

Buttiglione, while apologising for his comments and the reaction they provoked, refused to say sorry for his position on the issues.

Jose Manuel Barroso, then incoming head of the Commission, had to withdraw his proposed panel of commissioners as a result of the row and put forward a reshuffled selection. As part of the same process Barroso also asked Latvia to select another candidate, after its original nominee, Ingrida Udre, failed to win MEPs’ backing.

Of course, Juncker (and everyone else involved in the process, for that matter) will have been well aware of ‘the Buttiglione incident’ heading into the current process.

So how are the candidates officially confirmed?

The entire European Parliament votes next month on the Commission line-up — the entire commission line-up, that is: it can’t veto individual members.

In the case above for instance, the Civil Liberties Committee voted 27 to 26 against the appointment of Buttiglione. The vote was non-binding, but it put pressure on Barroso, leading to his eventual climb-down and the reshuffle.

All 751 MEPs will vote on the panel next month, after the various committees return their reports. A simple majority decides the issue.

All going to plan, the new Commission will then take office in early November, replacing the Barroso Commission, which is coming to the end of its term.

Originally posted at 8.30pm last night.

Read: Leaked chart names Phil Hogan as Agriculture Commissioner … but can it be trusted?

Opinion: Big Phil wasn’t the best option for Europe… it should have been Lucinda

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