Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Who will replace Commissioner Hogan?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Aug 30th, 2020 at 09:36:51 PM EST

Commission President, Ursula Van Der Leyen has asked the Irish government to submit both male and female candidates to replace Phil Hogan as European Commissioner while EU sources are stating that any replacement is unlikely to retain the important Trade portfolio.

This creates a number of problems for the Irish Government. Firstly, it could be argued that asking the government to submit a shortlist from which she will make the final selection is an impertinence, as it is for the Irish government, and the Irish government alone, to determine who the next Commissioner from Ireland should be (subject to EU Council and Parliament approval).

Secondly, what well qualified man, for example Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, or Paschal Donohue, would allow their name to go forward if they could be passed over for a less qualified woman? It would destroy their political careers in Ireland if they were seen to have sought the job and were then passed over for a more junior colleague.

When you have already been appointed to high office you are not supposed to hanker after another. Hogan's reputation had already been damaged when he expressed an interest in the WTO Director General job. People who had fought for him to get the Trade Commissioner job were not impressed that he might leave for another job so soon.

The result could be that only second tier men will apply, and a second-tier woman could then justifiably be said to be the best available candidate for the job. Leo Varadkar, Ex-Taoiseach and current Tánaiste (deputy Prime Minister) and Pascal Donohue, Finance Minister and President of the Eurogroup, have already ruled themselves out of consideration.

That problem would be compounded if the nominee was then appointed to what would be considered a more junior (and less relevant to Ireland) portfolio. Hogan's prior portfolio was Agriculture, also seen as crucial to Irish national interests. Already there has been considerable chagrin expressed in Ireland about losing an experienced Commissioner in an important portfolio at a critical time, with a hard Brexit looming and EU/UK relations likely to nose dive thereafter.

But the problem was that there was no other effective way the Commissioner could have been sanctioned short of resignation/dismissal. The matter should have been discussed by the European Parliament who might have recommended a suspension of his salary for a while, or some lesser sanction. But in the febrile state of Irish and European politics right now, a calmer more long term view was not possible, and the European Parliament was not in session.

Ultimately a commissioner is answerable to the President of the European Commission, and to the European Parliament, and his fate should not have been determined by domestic Irish political considerations, even though his flouting of (advisory and not legally binding) Irish public health and social distancing guidelines was arrogant and crass. Those who have been unable to attend a funeral or a wedding were understandably angry that other rules seemed to apply to the political elite.

But we are where we are, and the race to succeed Hogan has begun. European Parliament first Vice President, Mairead McGuinness has thrown her hat in the ring. Although lacking ministerial and administrative experience, she is articulate and well known and liked in European circles and came first in the elections for Vice President of the European Parliament with 618 votes.

Another women mentioned in despatches is former Tánaiste and Minster for Justice and current MEP Francis Fitzgerald who was unfairly forced to resign in a previous controversy and was subsequently cleared of all wrong doing. She is, however, relatively new to the Brussels scene. Other previous Ministers mentioned have included former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny (who was popular in Europe during his time in office) and long serving senior Minister Richard Bruton. However all three are well over 60 and no longer front-line politicians. The EU is not yet like the US where it seems you have to be over 70 to win a presidential nomination and Senators frequently go on to serve until well into their 80's.

If the government decides to go for a technocratic appointment it could go for one of two former secretaries general of the European Commission Catherine Day, or her predecessor, David O'Sullivan who has the added advantages of being a former Director-General of the Commission Trade Directorate and Ambassador of the European Union to the United States from 2014 to 2019. So there is no shortage of well qualified candidates.

The government is, however, said to favour the appointment of a politician rather than a technocrat and some current Ministers have also been floated as possibles: principally Simon Harris, current Minister for higher Education and previous minister for health, and Helen McEntee, formerly Minister for European Affairs and current Minister for Justice. However their appointment would necessitate a government re-shuffle and by-election which the Government might be reluctant to risk at the present time after a series of missteps and scandals has caused Sinn Féin's stock to rise ever higher in the polls.

Probably the outstanding political candidate is former MEP and Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Deputy leader of Fine Gael, and well known in Brussels for his advocacy work on behalf of Ireland as part of the Brexit negotiations. Beaten by Leo Varadkar for the Leadership of Fine Gael, he may not have entirely extinguished his domestic ambitions, however, and is most unlikely to allow his name to go forward unless there has been at least some back-channel indications he would be appointed, and to a prestigious portfolio.

With the indications from Brussels being that Ireland is unlikely to retain the Trade portfolio, his candidacy is likely to be a non-starter. He is certainly remaining schtum on the issue. Commission President Ursula Van Der Leven may well have decided that Irish concerns are no longer a priority for the Commission and hand the trade portfolio to whoever the German/French axis wants in the position. A hard Brexit could result in a very different political landscape within the EU and Irish concerns will not be allowed to stand in the way of a possibly much more hardline EU approach to the UK in future.

So a women it will most probably be, in some nondescript portfolio dressed up to look important. Hogan's misadventures and misjudgements may well have given the powers that be in the EU an opportunity to re-align its personnel more in line with the realities of power within the EU, all the while giving the appearance of greater accountability to the public. The remarkable thing is the the European Parliament never even got to discuss the issue. Those in Ireland who demanded Hogan's head may well come to rue their success if Hogan's departure results in Ireland becoming much less influential in Brussels.

Yes, I know, Commissioners are supposed to work in the EU's rather than their national interests, and most of the time they probably do. But they still tend to be the point of contact for national governments with particular concerns on particular issues within the Commission's remit: An important part of keeping the Commission accountable to its member states. Covid-19 is the most important issue facing the EU at the moment and Hogan was monumentally arrogant and stupid to flout the social distancing and self-isolation rules. But future trading relations with the US and UK are also pretty important and further disruption there could greatly complicate any economic recovery from the pandemic.

No one is indispensable, and "Golfgate" and the Hogan affair will soon be forgotten. Most of the real work is done by technocratic officials in any case. But personal relationships and national affinities are also important, and it is to be hoped that EU/US and EU/UK relationships are not further damaged in future years for want of a better appreciation of common interests. At the moment Ireland is probably closer to US and UK interests than any other EU member, and could help to keep at least some bridges between us intact. The risk of very damaging rifts in the future is already very great.

Hogan affair displays Irish exceptionalism at its worst
Viewed from a European context, there is disbelief that Ireland would jettison its respected and successful trade commissioner. That is not to downplay his actions or minimise the impact of the pandemic on Ireland, but a simple reflection of how important Hogan was in the EU hierarchy.

In practical terms, he had just launched a review of EU trade policy which will play a large part in guiding Europe's (and Ireland's) economic fate for the next decade. He was an influential presence in the background of the ongoing Brexit talks and a totem pole for representing Irish interests in Brussels.

The response from non-Irish EU officials and lawmakers has been remarkably consistent (an unlikely occurrence in itself) in praising Hogan's contribution to achievements as diverse as the EU-Japan trade deal and the soya beans deal brokered with the United States.

MEPs across all parties feel his punishment was a totally disproportionate response to his behaviour while in Ireland.

There are three further points which have gone totally unreported in Ireland but which need to be highlighted from a Brussels perspective.

The first is that Phil Hogan played a major role in the rehabilitation of Ireland's reputation in Brussels following Dublin's increasingly dismissive attitude towards the EU during the 2000s, including ignoring its cautions on our budget policy. This was the decade which culminated with our national bankruptcy and subsequent financial bailout in 2010.

Together with Enda Kenny, Hogan played a key role in re-establishing a constructive Irish relationship with Brussels. This was a relationship that badly needed mending following the unremarkable terms as commissioners served by Charlie McCreevy and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. And this was rewarded in Brussels by portfolios of declining real importance and clout.

Second, and notwithstanding the pro-EU media hype surrounding the modern Fine Gael party, Ireland is increasingly seen as a problem child in Brussels. Although this is largely obscured by Ireland's central role in the ongoing Brexit talks, Dublin's inability to evolve a position beyond opposition to any further forms of digital/financial services taxation or corporate tax reform has forced Ireland on the outside of many important conversations.

Hogan was the only Irish policymaker who offered a clear antidote to this Irish parochialism. By clearly advocating a less protectionist view (against vested interests in many larger EU member states), he came to represent a more open vision for Europe's place in the world, and for Ireland's role in Europe.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Aug 31st, 2020 at 10:08:14 AM EST
Coveney is a weasel. I'd be surprised to learn no one on the continent paid any attention to his role in BREXIT.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Mon Aug 31st, 2020 at 10:42:53 PM EST
Prepare to be surprised...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Aug 31st, 2020 at 10:48:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
IIRC, the national governments through the Council (intentionally mudding the roles there) suggests the Commissioners to the Parliament after consultations with the EC President. Parilament can approve or disapprove of the whole Commission (often leading to negotiations and candidates withdrawing) and the Councils then appoints the Commission.

I am less certain of what happens when you just restructure the Commission, but I doubt it suddenly gives the EC President much more power over the process. Looks like a power grab to me.

by fjallstrom on Tue Sep 1st, 2020 at 10:16:23 AM EST
Looking a bit further, when Mariya Gabriel became the commissioner from Bulgaria in 2017 I find nothing about a short-list. I find a hearing in the EP and an appointment from the Council after consultations with the EC President.

A power grab it is.

by fjallstrom on Tue Sep 1st, 2020 at 11:04:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the President does have leverage. She can appoint the new Commissioner to a meaningless portfolio if she doesn't like the choice(s) she's given.

There are now three main candidates - Simon Coveney (the government favourite), Mairead McGuinness and Frances Fitzgerald. Simon Coveney (48) has been an MEP and Deputy Prime Minister, and is currently Foreign Minister. Francis Fitzgerald (70) is a former Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and first time MEP. Mairead McGuinness (61) is first vice President of the European Parliament with a good chance of becoming President next time around. She lacks Ministerial experience but is said to be highly though of by Ursula VD Leyen.

Coveney only wants the job if he is guaranteed a senior portfolio. There is talk of nominating him and Fitzgerald as a decoy runner in the expectation VD Leyen will pick Coveney.

It really is an invidious position to put any senior politician in: Expecting them to accept a place on a short-list not knowing if they will e picked and if, so, to what portfolio. We do not wan a situation where Coveney is nominated and then turns down the job if he doesn't like the portfolio. Hugely damaging to all concerned.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Sep 1st, 2020 at 03:11:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But she only has leverage versus a member state in this case Ireland. It doesn't work versus the Council as a whole as sticking people with more or less powerful portfolios is a zero-sum game (unless one really goes into the whole shooting oneself in the foot territory). And it is the council that appoints.

So it is a power grab both from the Council and the member state, but mostly from the Council. Presumably with the approval of the Council as they otherwise could slap her down. If we add in the power struggle over the real power of appointing the Commission President between the Council and the Parliament that the Council won in 2019, reserving for itself the real power that the Parliament attempted to seize for itself and the voting public, I think we are looking at an attempt by the Council (or the ruling fraction thereof) to create a more Presidential model, appointed by itself naturally.

Of course, this might seem a bit Kremlinology from a thin foundation, but I am hard pressed to see this apparent change in procedure as anything but a step in changing the power structure.

by fjallstrom on Wed Sep 2nd, 2020 at 12:15:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And this may also explain the delay in the Irish Government announcing its nomination(s). Apparently Varadkar is holding out until he gets some indication that the successful candidate will get a decent portfolio. The view is that the Irish Government favours Coveney, Brussels favours McGuinness, and they may get Fitzgerald if nothing substantive is on offer -  as McGuinness has a decent chance of being the next President of the Parliament.

MEP Mairead McGuinness, MEP Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney at an event in Wexford in 2019. File photograph: Barbara Lindberg   

MEP Mairead McGuinness, MEP Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney at an event in Wexford in 2019. File photograph: Barbara Lindberg

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Sep 2nd, 2020 at 06:52:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Clarity on nomination for EU commissioner by `end of week', Fine Gael TDs told
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party that he expects clarity on the nominations for the role of EU commissioner by the end of this week.

Sources present say Mr Varadkar was "at pains to point out that the Commission want a woman and a man, not a man and a woman. He outlined that clearly".

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Sep 2nd, 2020 at 07:03:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
< checks watch >
Gender-balance report ...
by Cat on Thu Sep 3rd, 2020 at 08:34:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Andrew McDowell and Mairead McGuinness candidates for European Commission role
The Cabinet has proposed Mairead McGuinness and Andrew McDowell as candidates to replace Phil Hogan at the European Commission.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will not be one of the Government's nominees for the role of European Commissioner.

Andrew McDowell is a former Fine Gael advisor and until recently vice-president of the European Investment Bank .

Andrew McDowell is a former backroom Fine Gael Economic advisor and a political non-entity. No one seriously believes he will get the job. But Commission President Ursula vd Leyen had made it clear she wanted "both a Women and a Man, not a man and a women nominees", in the words of Leo Varadkar. Basically no man need apply, and in the end no one of substance did.

Why put your present job at risk by applying for another, when you know you won't get the job?

But this is a power grab by VD Leyen.  She has no right to insist on both a female and male nominee, and no right to make the final choice. She will now be under pressure to give Mairead McGuinness a meaningful portfolio, as Mairead stood a good chance of being the next President of the European Parliament and will not have wanted to give up that opportunity for a nothing job.

And yet Mairead, who is a very measured and articulate parliamentarian, has never had a ministerial post of any kind. From an Irish perspective she would have been much better off becoming the next President of the European Parliament. Foreign Minister, and former deputy Prime minister Simon Coveney would have been a much more experienced candidate had a meaningful role been made available for him.

Would VD Leyen have treated Germany or France with the same contempt, effectively vetoing a better qualified nominee? Does gender equality trump relevant experience and expertise? I have no doubt Mairead McGuinness will make an adequate Commissioner in some mid tier role, but whatever happened to appointing the best person for the job?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Sep 4th, 2020 at 03:37:30 PM EST
Any way you cut BREXIT, Coveney is a weasel.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Sun Sep 6th, 2020 at 11:01:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently Hogan was applying for another job:

Brussels has imposed a set of restrictions on its trade chief Phil Hogan in an effort to isolate EU trade policy from possible conflicts of interests emerging from his interest in the top job at the World Trade Organization.

The Commission said today that Hogan should no longer speak publicly if his appearance threatens to "distract" from official EU trade policy. Any decisions on EU trade policy will be supervised by Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis.


Mamer added that Hogan "continues fully in his role as trade commissioner" and said the new restrictions were simply "precautionary measures."

I can't find anything about that being disruptive, so presumably changing commissioners in mid-lane is ok if the commissioner uses the job as a stepping stone to an international top job, but not if they have to step down for acting like a smuck. Or he stepped down so quickly to keep his image less damaged as he was anyway getting ready to leave.

by fjallstrom on Thu Sep 10th, 2020 at 11:54:05 AM EST
This is old news, from last May, and may be part of the reason Van Der Leyen lost confidence in him He expressed an interest in the WTO job but apparently didn't get a positive response from the USA, who must approve any appointment.

The WTO job is still vacant and becoming very problematic, so Hogan might still try to get it. His aberrant behaviour in Ireland might just persuade Trump that he is Trump's kind of guy...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Sep 10th, 2020 at 02:04:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]