Ireland loses top EU trade job after coronavirus breach

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BRUSSELS (AFP) – Ireland lost the European Union’s coveted top trade job on Tuesday (Sept 8), paying the price for mistakes made by Mr Phil Hogan, who resigned after breaking coronavirus guidelines.

Instead, the post of trade commissioner now goes to EU veteran Valdis Dombrovskis, a former Latvian prime minister who is seen as a steady pair of hands for one of the bloc’s most sensitive jobs.

Ireland, however, did better than expected in the reshuffle, with the important financial services portfolio going to the country’s new commissioner, senior MEP Mairead McGuinness, the EU said.

With the post, Ms McGuinness becomes a key regulator of banking in Europe and will help determine the role of the City of London in the EU’s future ties with the UK.

“Congratulations to @MaireadMcGMEP on her appointment as European Commissioner in an important financial portfolio,” tweeted Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin.

Mr Hogan, one of the bloc’s most senior officials and a powerful force in Brexit talks, quit last month after a week-long stream of revelations about his whereabouts during a visit to Ireland.

In a scandal known as Golfgate, the Irish government said Mr Hogan flouted a trio of coronavirus guidelines during the trip, although the former commissioner himself insisted he broke no laws.

He also attended a parliamentary golf club dinner on Aug 19, in breach of coronavirus restrictions on social gathering numbers announced just 24 hours earlier in a bid to curb a surge in cases.

An outburst of public anger in Ireland persuaded EU chief Ursula von der Leyen to ask Mr Hogan to step down, forcing the Irish government to put forward new candidates for the job.

Mr Dombrovskis had already been in the EU Commission under Mr Jean-Claude Juncker since 2014 and was promoted to executive vice-president by Ms Von der Leyen last year.

The role of trade commissioner is one of the hardest in the EU executive, challenged in recent years by the protectionism of US President Donald Trump and tensions with China.

The occupant of the post will also have to handle rising opposition to trade deals by European voters who have growing doubt on the merits of globalisation championed by Brussels.

The reshuffle still needs the final approval of the European Parliament.

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