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Von der Leyen says government must propose a woman and a man as candidates to replace Phil Hogan

Phil Hogan resigned as Trade Commissioner last night.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaking with European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan in January.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaking with European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan in January.
Image: DPA/PA Images

Updated Aug 27th 2020, 10:10 AM

URSULA VON DER Leyen has invited the Irish government to propose “suitable candidates” for the EU commissioner vacancy vacated by Phil Hogan. 

In a brief statement this morning, the European Commission President thanked Hogan for his contribution to the EU, but acknowledged the anger his actions had caused. 

“As Europe fights to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, and Europeans make sacrifices,” she said, “I expect the members of the college to be particularly vigilant about compliance with applicable national or regional rules and regulations”. 

“It is now up to the Irish government to present suitable candidates for the commissioner of Irish nationality,” she said. The government will be asked to propose a woman and a man, von der Leyen said. 

She said she would then decide on whether there would be a new allocation of portfolios. 

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Since Hogan’s resignation last night, attention has turned to who may take his place. The European Commission may just slot in another Trade Commissioner, rather than do a full reshuffle, an Irish MEP has said.

Seán Kelly, a member of the European Parliament for Ireland South, said he hopes Ireland will retain the role after Phil Hogan’s resignation last night.

Kelly told Morning Ireland he believes Hogan’s decision to resign was the right course of action.

When asked if he thought an Irish person would replace Hogan, he said: “I would hope so.”

There are fears Ireland will lose the trade portfolio at a crucial time in Brexit negotiations.

The process to appoint a new commissioner could take weeks and Kelly said von der Leyen “may not want a reshuffle”, particularly as trade talks continue between the EU and the UK.

However, he added that von der Leyen may see this week’s events as an opportunity to reshuffle if she believes some commissioners are underperforming in their current roles.

While there is no guarantee Ireland will keep the trade portfolio, there is speculation over who will be nominated.

The names being mentioned include Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney; Tánaiste Leo Varadkar; Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe; former Taoiseach Enda Kenny; David O’Sullivan, former EU Ambassador to the US; current MEP and former minister Frances Fitzgerald; Mairead McGuinness, a vice president of the European Parliament; and former minister Richard Bruton.

Coveney is tipped as the favourite to replace Hogan as Ireland’s EU Commissioner. While some have mentioned Varadkar’s name in the mix, due to him taking over the post of Taoiseach in 2022 it is unlikely he would give that up to go to Brussels. 

Due to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe taking on the presidency of the Eurogroup, he is unlikely to get the role.

Enda Kenny is highly regarded in Europe, and has been previously tipped for some top jobs in the past.

A spokesperson for the Commission president told a press conference today that Hogan took the step himself to tender his resignation, and explained the reasons why in his statement last night.

She said the president has an objective of achieving gender balance in the commission college, which is why she invited the Irish government to put forward two names for the job.

The spokesperson confirmed that von der Leyen conveyed the message in person to Taoiseach this morning that it is important to start the process and put forward the names.

“The timeline is in the court of the Irish authorities,” she said.

It is important that the president has a “strong team in place” that is “ready for action”, said the spokesperson. She said it is important the Irish authorities come forward with the proposed names “as quickly as possible”.

Golfgate

Hogan resigned from his role as EU Commissioner for Trade last night amid widespread criticism over his attendance at an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Co Galway, as well as his movements in Ireland in recent weeks – which were in breach of Covid-19 guidelines.

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Hogan on Tuesday day published a lengthy statement and timeline attempting to explain his movements in Ireland leading up to his attendance at the controversial event in Clifden on 19 August.

The leaders of the coalition – Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánasite Leo Varadkar and Minister Eamon Ryan – had called on Hogan but reflect on his position, but ultimately his fate was up to von der Leyen.

In a statement published just before 9pm yesterday, Hogan confirmed his resignation.

“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.

“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,” he said.

With reporting from Dominic McGrath and Christina Finn

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Órla Ryan

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