Ireland likely to lose EU trade portfolio as nominees submitted

FILE PHOTO: European Trade Commissioner-designate Phil Hogan of Ireland attends his hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium

Ireland is likely to lose the prestigious trade portfolio at the European Commission, officials and diplomats said on Friday, as Dublin put forward two nominees to replace its commissioner, Phil Hogan.

Dublin opted against nominating a senior minister and instead proposed former European Investment Bank (EIB) vice president Andrew McDowell and senior European Parliament member Mairead McGuinness.

Hogan resigned last week for failing to obey COVID-19 safety rules during a trip to Ireland.

“There seems to be a growing consensus that Ireland will not get the trade portfolio again,” one senior EU diplomat said. Two senior officials echoed that view.

Hogan’s resignation could trigger a wider reshuffle, several sources said. Some mentioned Belgium’s Didier Reynders, now justice commissioner, as a possible candidate for trade.

That brief is being covered temporarily by Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, who already handles financial regulation, banking, capital markets and euro zone issues.

Some officials said he might take trade for good if some of his current responsibilities were taken by someone else.

The portfolio has gained in importance because of tensions between China and the United States, the EU’s own trade problems with Washington and Beijing, and Brexit.

The EU executive has one commissioner from each of the 27 member countries. Von der Leyen will interview the Irish nominees early next week, she said in a statement.

McGuinness, who is Ireland’s longest serving MEP and has a background in agriculture, is one of the European Parliament’s vice presidents and has been prominent in the Brexit debate.

McDowell’s four-year term as one of the EIB’s eight vice presidents ended this week. He served as chief economic adviser to Irish premier Enda Kenny from 2011 to 2016 and was shortlisted for the role of Irish central bank governor last year.

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney had signalled an interest in the role but opted not to put his name forward.

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