Who will replace Phil Hogan?

The Parliament Magazine canvassed opinion from MEPs and influencers across Europe on the Irish commissioner's departure and who they think is best suited to replace him.
Outgoing Irish Commissioner Phil Hogan | European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

28 Aug 2020

Names in the frame include EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, EPP member Mairead McGuinness and former MEP and deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney. However, David O’Sullivan, a former European Commission secretary general, is being touted as the most likely successor to Phil Hogan as Irish commissioner.

The vastly experienced O’Sullivan is also a former EU ambassador to the U.S and special advisor to former Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker. Whoever emerges as Ireland's nominee must be ratified by parliament.

Hogan quit his post this week as EU trade commissioner after days of intense pressure over claims that he broke coronavirus rules.

He had attended a golf dinner with more than 80 people in County Galway on 19 August and was criticised for not complying with quarantine rules when he arrived in Ireland from Brussels.

The official said he did not break any law but he "should have been more rigorous" in adherence to the COVID guidelines.

The Parliament Magazine canvassed opinion from several MEPs and others on Hogan’s departure and who might replace him. We also asked our readers in a poll who they think the next commissioner should be.

On Friday, Irish EPP member Deirdre Clune said, “I am really disappointed with the fact that Phil Hogan has had to resign, although I do accept the fact that the issue was dragging on and was a distraction to the work of the Commission as a whole. I believe he was an excellent commissioner and very good for Europe. His political skills will not be easily replaced.”

“I am aware of the names being mentioned as successor Mairead McGuinness and Frances Fitzgerald, my colleagues in the European Parliament and former MEP and deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney among them. All are highly competent and I’m confident the Irish government will choose wisely.”

Irish GUE member Clare Daly said, “Obviously, a big political storm blew up over Golfgate and the public were – entirely justifiably – outraged. The level of outrage, I think, reflected wider public frustration over the Irish Government's mishandling of the Coronavirus crisis.”

“I believe he was an excellent commissioner and very good for Europe. His political skills will not be easily replaced” Deirdre Clune (IE, EPP)

“Hogan is a longstanding political opponent of mine, and I find it somewhat ironic that having combated him for years over issues like water charges, household charges, and indeed trade policy in the EU, that those issues were not the ones that brought him down. In many ways I would have preferred him to be out of his job for his policies rather than over this issue.”

“Golfgate was an absolute disgrace, that should never have happened, but Hogan didn't organise it, he was one of the attendees. I can completely understand the anger of the Irish people at the sight of high and mighty representatives of politics, law, banking and finance rubbing shoulders over golf and at dinner in a hotel when so many people have made such huge sacrifices during the Coronavirus crisis, but I was a little bit surprised to see Hogan resign, though I do understand that there was a huge amount of pressure there for him to do so.”

“He was one of the most influential Commissioners in the current Commission, and it will be difficult for Ireland to find a replacement. I myself would like to see someone like Emily O'Reilly get the job, but the reality is that it's almost certainly going to be a Fine Gael appointee.”

Further comment came from Danuta Hübner, a senior Polish MEP and also a former EU commissioner, who said, “I regret very much the situation that has developed, now leading to Phil Hogan’s resignation.”

“I agree that the law must be respected by all and, at the end of the day, the responsibility stayed with Phil Hogan. But it is bad that in such a moment the EU is losing an experienced leader on issues key for its recovery and global influence.”

She added, “I have cooperated for more than two decades with David O’Sullivan in his very different functions in the European Commission and I know he is extremely experienced and committed to issues we face now as challenges. Nobody is better prepared to fill Phil Hogan’s shoes.”

Former UK Socialist MEP Richard Corbett said, "This sends out an important message: that those in powerful positions must obey the same rules as everyone else. What a contrast with the situation in Britain!"

“He was one of the most influential Commissioners in the current Commission, and it will be difficult for Ireland to find a replacement” Clare Daly (IE, GUE/NGL)

Sir Graham Watson, former leader of the Liberal Democrats in Parliament, said, “Hogan’s hubris has deprived the EU of a competent commissioner. But Ireland is not short of distinguished candidates for the job. Mairead McGuinness, for example, or Simon Coveney. Or, if a technocrat is preferred, David O’Sullivan or Catherine Day.”

Giles Merritt, founder of the Friends of Europe think tank, said, “Phil Hogan is a real loss to the von der Leyen Commission - he stood head and shoulders among most of his fellow commissioners, and not just physically!”

“His resignation is all the more striking because of its contrast with the refusal of ministers (and advisers) in the present UK government to stand down over both COVID-related episodes and policy failures. That, one suspects, has made it all the more difficult for Ursula von der Leyen to keep Hogan in her Commission.”

The former FT bureau chief added, “The idea being floated of bringing David O'Sullivan in as Hogan's replacement has much merit - he's available and knows the EU inside and out.”

Elsewhere, Denis Macshane, a former Europe Minister in the UK, said, “Hogan made a mistake but in public life mistakes can be fatal. It is to his honour that unlike Boris Johnson’s aide, Dominic Cummings or his housing minister, Robin Jenrick, both of whom seriously violated lockdown rules and Johnson allowed them to stay, thus demonstrating hypocritical double standards at the highest level of British public life. Hogan went quickly and smoothly after a short delay."

The former Labour MP said, "It reflects well on the Commission, von der Leyen and the Irish government minister that they did not delay the inevitable sanction. Ireland has plenty of ace EU diplomat specialists and some first-rate MEPs who could be slotted into this role. It would be no bad thing if another woman could join the Commission.”

“In the current circumstances, as Europe fights to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and Europeans make sacrifices and accept painful restrictions, I expect the members of the College to be particularly vigilant about compliance with applicable national or regional rules or recommendations” Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President

“Sabine Weyand, the director of the EU Commission’s trade directorate, is one of the best trade negotiators in the world and, of course, knows the Brexit dossier better than anyone in London. So, whoever becomes trade commissioner will be in very safe hands.”

From the NGO world, Cornelia Maarfield, trade and climate project manager at Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, said one of the big files the new trade commissioner will take over is the EU-Mercosur Agreement.

She said: “The new commissioner should put the current deal on ice and renegotiate it on the basis of a mandate that reflects the climate emergency as well as the need to save the Amazon rainforest and its peoples. This should be the moment for the EU to start resolving the contradictions between its trade and climate policies. Trade must become a tool to mitigate climate change, rather than an amplifier.”

Von der Leyen, in a statement, said she “respects” Hogan’s decision, saying “Over the past days, I discussed with Phil Hogan about his movements in Ireland, in light of information that emerged regarding respect of public health guidelines in Ireland.”

“In the current circumstances, as Europe fights to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and Europeans make sacrifices and accept painful restrictions, I expect the members of the College to be particularly vigilant about compliance with applicable national or regional rules or recommendations.”

She added “In accordance with Article 246 of the Treaty, it is up now to the Irish government to present suitable candidates for a Commissioner of Irish nationality. As in the past, I will invite the Irish government to propose a woman and a man.”

Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis will assume, as an interim measure, responsibilities for trade matters.

“In accordance with Article 246 of the Treaty, it is up now to the Irish government to present suitable candidates for a Commissioner of Irish nationality. As in the past, I will invite the Irish government to propose a woman and a man” Ursula von der Leyen

Von der Leyen said, “At a later stage, I will decide on the final allocation of portfolios in the College of Commissioners.”

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