Irishman set to tackle Trump and Brexit as EU trade commissioner
The incoming president of the European Union’s powerful executive arm has nominated Irishman Phil Hogan to lead future EU trade talks, which could put him in charge of negotiations with the United Kingdom after Brexit.
Hogan would also lead talks with the United States at a time of deep transatlantic trade tensions over President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on the Europeans, among others.
Trump administration officials have accused the current team at the European Commission – the executive branch of the EU – of dragging their feet in talks on a new, limited trade agreement. But the EU team, led by Cecilia Malmstrom, insists the ball is the US court.
Trump has also been angered by the EU’s aggressive moves to crack down on market abuse by major companies, particularly US tech companies, which have led to billions of dollars in fines on the likes of Google and Microsoft.
But the current EU competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has not only retained her portfolio, but also received extra clout in a promotion that would see her become a commission executive vice president.
‘A hard and fair negotiator’
Alongside US talks, Brexit is set to be the biggest challenge facing Hogan, if he is approved for the position.
Praising Hogan as “a hard and fair negotiator,” European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen said that “the trade commissioner, who will have to deal with the future trade agreement we will be negotiating [with the UK], is an excellent choice”.
Once the UK leaves the bloc – Brexit is currently scheduled to happen on or before October 31 – it would face the long and arduous task of drawing up new trade relations with its European partners.
Hogan, whose country is likely to be hit hard economically by Brexit, will join forces with former Brexit deputy negotiator Sabine Weyand, who was in June appointed head of the commission’s trade directorate.
Hogan is currently serving as agriculture commissioner. He said he was “very pleased” with the nomination. “This is undoubtedly one of the most important economic portfolios” at the commission and “the appointment comes at a very important time for the European Union,” he said in a series of posts on Twitter.
In a tweet after the announcement, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said: “Phil Hogan’s appointment as EU Trade Commissioner is a very positive development for Ireland. We sought a major economic brief in the new European Commission, and I am very satisfied that we have secured it.”
He will work for Europe as a whole, but it's a definite advantage to have an Irish person in charge of this crucial brief over the next 5 years. He will take the lead on the EU’s post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, as well as Mercosur & trading relations with India, US & China.
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) September 10, 2019
Hogan’s name was among 25 new commissioners in von der Leyen’s team, set to take up their posts on November 1, once they have been vetted by the European Parliament.
The commission – an enormous European bureaucracy headquartered in Brussels with some 33,000 staff members – proposes EU legislation and ensures that the rules are enforced.