EU Trade Chief’s job on the line after Covid-19 lockdown rules breach

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has asked EU trade Commissioner Phil Hogan to “fully explain” the circumstances surrounding his controversial attendance at a golf club dinner in Ireland.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

24 Aug 2020

It emerged on Monday that Hogan has been asked by von der Leyen to deliver a full report of what happened.

Speaking at a briefing for reporters, a Commission spokesperson said, “I feel for the people of Ireland who, like others, have had to go through great difficulties to comply with strict conditions.”

“Many have lost loved ones and this is why it is important that rules relating to the Coronavirus crisis are respected. That is a matter of public health. But there are health and moral aspects involved here.”

“We hope he (Hogan) will be ready to provide additional explanation through other channels other than tweets.”

Hogan was stopped and cautioned by police for using his mobile phone while driving to a golf dinner that has caused an outcry in his native Ireland over potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations.

It is believed he is under police investigation for alleged breaches of public health regulations. Hogan was among more than 80 guests at the hotel dinner.

Ireland has been under strict restrictions that largely prevent people travelling except in exceptional circumstances.

“Many have lost loved ones and this is why it is important that rules relating to the Coronavirus crisis are respected. That is a matter of public health. But there are health and moral aspects involved here.” European Commission spokesperson

Irish police are investigating if the Oireachtas golf society dinner breached Covid-19 regulations. The event came a day after tighter lockdown rules were announced in Ireland, some of the strictest Covid-19 rules in Europe

Hogan apologised on Sunday for attending the event after Ireland’s Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister asked him to consider his position. Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that the matter had damaged the national effort to fight Covid-19 at a time when infections were rising.

A spokesman for Hogan said, “While driving in County Kildare, he was stopped by a Garda (police officer) for using his mobile phone while driving." He confirmed Hogan had been cautioned for the offence.

Hogan was appointed to the Commission’s agriculture brief in 2014 and given the influential position of trade chief upon his reappointment last year. He is expected to lead free trade negotiations with the UK if, and when, they commence after Brexit.

He has apologised "fully and unreservedly" via a tweet but has faced calls to issue a public apology.

The Commission spokesman pointed out that using a mobile phone while driving is a criminal offence and the Commission was “committed to ensuring safety on the roads.”

“We would require our drivers to respect traffic rules,” said the spokesman.

“It is important for [European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen] that such rules and quarantine restrictions are respected. But it is also important for her to be fair and it is essential that she has all the facts. She is in the process of gathering the facts.” European Commission spokesperson

“Traffic incidents are for the local authorities and police to address and it is not for us to comment on traffic issues involving EU Commissioners but I trust that the local authorities will deal with this in the best way possible.”

The spokesperson added, “I am confident he will further explain publicly this issue. We received a report from Phil Hogan on Sunday night and Commission President [Ursula von der Leyen] will now look further into this.”

She will need to establish the full picture before she can complete her full assessment. But the rules and guidelines regarding Coronavirus must be respected including by members of the Commission.  The president expects Commissioners to comply with these rules as citizens are expected to.”

“It is important for the president that such rules and quarantine restrictions are respected. But it is also important for her to be fair and it is essential that she has all the facts. She is in the process of gathering the facts.”

The spokespersonadded, “This will not cause any hindrance to the work of the Commission, including its efforts on the pandemic.”

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