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EU Trade Commissioner Hogan resigns following 'Golfgate'

by Bernard Thu Aug 27th, 2020 at 07:03:14 PM EST

Phil Hogan, in charge of the Trade portfolio in the EU Commission, announced his resignation yesterday night (August 26), following a week long political storm dubbed 'Golfgate'.
Hogan traveled to his native Ireland a couple of weeks ago for a short summer break, but he also attended a dinner in a golfing resort near Galway, on the western coast of Ireland, on Wednesday 19, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the parliamentary golf society, along with 80 other Irish politicians. The problem? Ireland's coronavirus safety rules were just being strengthened to limit all gathering to just six people.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

Hogan was of course not the only one to find himself in hot waters: many of the attendees were publicly reprimanded and the agriculture minister, Dara Calleary, tendered his resignation on Friday 21. As for Hogan, he declared that he "fully complied" with Ireland's safety rules, requiring a 14 days isolation period for any traveler from Belgium, where the EU commissioners reside.

Public fury in Ireland quickly turned into a media storm; ordinary citizens are severely restricted in their movements and social life and are understandably upset that a bunch of powerful politicians are openly flouting the rules, a la Dominic Cummings.
On Saturday, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin and former PM Leo Varadkar went on television to rebuke Hogan and publicly demanding that he "considers his position".
An important point is that EU countries government have no authority to dismiss "their" commissioner: Commission members are not answering to their respective capitals, but to the Commission President and to some extend the European Parliament.
Over the week-end, Hogan returned to Brussels by plane, published an apology - but no intention to resign - and gave a "complete account" to his boss, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. At this point, it looks like Hogan will eventually ride out the storm, once the public furore in Ireland eventually dissipate.

But then, on Tuesday night Hogan was interviewed on Irish public TV broadcaster RTÉ. It spectacularly backfired: Hogan insisted he complied by the Irish self-quarantine rule when he arrived from Belgium, but insisted he didn't need to self-isolate for 14 days, because he reportedly tested negative just before his departure for Dublin. This is not the case: the 14-day rule applies to all travelers, regardless of pre-travel testing.

It also turned out that Hogan had traveled in several places in Ireland and played golf on at least one course. Worse: it looks like Hogan's account to von der Leyen was not quite as detailed as it should have been.
At this point, Hogan's failure to come clean was becoming a liability to the von der Leyen Commission who had vowed to make the EU more accountable to the citizens. It was also said that von der Leyen had lost her trust in Hogan: he eventually resigned on Wednesday night.

Now what?

Hogan's departure comes at an inopportune time for the Commission: the EU is engaged in several high stakes trade issues and negotiations: with the south American countries of the MERCOSUR, with the increasingly aggressive Trump administration, not to forget the future trade relationship with the soon-to-be-out-of-the-single-market UK. Hogan was an experienced negotiator and the Commission has now to find a suitable replacement.
Ireland will nominate a new Commissionner but he or she may not be in charge of the Trade portfolio, so a complete reshuffle of the different Commissionners posts should be in the works - yest another headache for the Commission.

What now for the EU Commission?

With Phil Hogan's departure, Ursula von der Leyen bets on ethics - Politico.eu

The political backlash following the so-called golfgate scandal in Ireland that eventually ended Hogan's career had earlier led to the resignations of the agriculture minister and the deputy leader of Fianna Fáil. Six senators who attended the dinner also lost the party whip.

"If Irish politicians have had to step down ... while an EU politician did not need to, that would have harmed the image of the EU," said German Green MEP Daniel Freund.

"At some point it becomes a political liability if she protected him," he said. "Under [former Commission President Jean-Claude] Juncker, Hogan would have been `our man for the agreement with U.K., we need him, if he goes I go'... now, there's a political price to pay," Freund said.

There is also a sense in the Berlaymont that in order to be taken seriously internationally, commissioners need to espouse the values they promote.

"Irrelevant of one's view about Hogan's overall performance, giving out this signal is crucial in such an event, especially due to the fact that we are dangerously sliding away from a rules-based world order, also or even mostly so in terms of international trade," said a second Commission official.

by Bernard (bernard) on Fri Aug 28th, 2020 at 08:39:51 AM EST
Indoor gatherings where limited to 50 people at the time of the Apres gold celebratory dinner. I know, because my daughter's wedding was limited to 43 guests plus serving staff last week-end! Many close friends and relatives could not attend.

That said, Hogan claimed he had been assured by the organisers that the event was covid-19 regulations compliant. The function room was divided by a mobile partition which split the attendance into two groups of 40.

However the partition was removed for the speeches which meant it was in no way compliant. Hogan should have left the room at that point. The "partition" stunt is all to reminiscent of stunts pulled by politicians in the past, but it could be argued that it was the responsibility of the venue and event organisers to ensure regulations where complied with.

However I was prepared to defend Hogan's stance until it emerged he had also not self-isolated during his stay in Ireland prior to the Golf outing. That smacked to much of the political elite not regarding themselves as bound by the regulations effecting everyone else, including my daughter upset that many of her friends could not attend her wedding.

(For the record, my fater-of-the-bride speech was brilliant and delivered outdoors to an appreciative audience!(:-))

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Aug 28th, 2020 at 03:15:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, what did really tip Hogan over was not the golfing dinner itself but the fact that he had apparently traveled all over the country and played golf on two different greens. On top of this, he didn't self-isolate for 14 days upon his arrival in Ireland, as he should have done, coming from Belgium; and I understand his justifications during his interview on RTÉ TV didn't go down well at all.

But the key point was probably that he's been not totally forthright with his boss von der Leyen, on his activities. This was too much for her, especially at a time when the Commission is trying to appear as exemplary in the COVID-19 fight. Having commissioners getting away without consequences may have been possible in the past, but today is different.

Congratulations for your daughter's wedding. All the best to the newlyweds. And I'm sure that your speech was nothing short of a masterpiece :)

by Bernard (bernard) on Sat Aug 29th, 2020 at 06:17:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rules are for little people.
by StillInTheWilderness on Fri Aug 28th, 2020 at 09:49:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
5 challenges for the EU's new trade chief - Politico.eu
Spare a thought for Phil Hogan's successor as EU trade boss.

With global trade sputtering because of coronavirus, Brexit talks turning into a game of chicken, and the trade conflict with the United States in desperate need of a cease-fire, the new commissioner will have their work cut out. While prior commissioners were able to focus on securing headline-grabbing trade deals, attention is now turning toward damage control.

Here are the five main tasks for the EU's new trade chief:

End trade war with the US

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen counted on Hogan, who proved a highly effective negotiator in his previous stint as agriculture commissioner, to reset the world's largest investment and trade relationship after years of U.S. President Donald Trump's tariff war.

Easier said than done, even if Trump eventually goes.

Prevent EU deals from unraveling
The ratification of the EU's trade deals with Canada and the Southern American bloc of Mercosur has sparked opposition all over the EU, from Cyprus to the Netherlands, Germany and France. While the ongoing negotiations with Australia and New Zealand might not give the EU's new trade chief so many headaches, it will be difficult to ensure the existing ones get the green light in EU capitals. In the case of Mercosur, ratification by France and Germany is looking almost impossible.
The MERCOSUR deal is precisely the archetypal trade deal that will weaken European and South American agriculture as well. It will push even more deforestation in the Amazonia and other places. Only a few big businesses will benefit - that's the idea.

Manage the fallout from Brexit

Negotiations over a future trade deal between the EU and the U.K. have turned into a game of chicken, increasing the chances of a no-deal outcome by the end of the year. Having agreed on a divorce package last year that allowed the U.K. to continue to trade with the EU, the two sides remain at an impasse on various issues, the thorniest being so-called level playing field rules, designed to prevent the U.K. from undercutting the EU in the future.

The EU is determined not to blink first and has repeatedly stressed that the U.K. has much more to lose in a no-deal scenario than Brussels. But a disorderly Brexit at the end of the year would be a major blow for the EU economy as well, especially when it coincides with the recovery from the corona crisis.

by Bernard (bernard) on Sat Aug 29th, 2020 at 06:32:41 PM EST

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