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.
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.