EC president ‘respects’ resignation of Phil Hogan from trade role

The president of the European Commission has said she respects the resignation of Phil Hogan, adding that she expects all commissioners to comply with health guidelines.

In a televised statement, Ursula von der Leyen said she is “very grateful” to Mr Hogan for his “tireless and successful work”.

Her comments came after the Irish Government said the former EU trade commissioner had made the correct decision in resigning over his attendance at a golf dinner during the coronavirus pandemic.

He had been expected to play a key role in negotiating the EU’s arrangements with Britain after Brexit.

Brexit
Brexit

Mr Hogan was among more than 80 people at the event in the west of Ireland last week, as the country tries to contain a new spike in Covid-19 cases and limit social gatherings.

Ms von der Leyen said on Thursday: “I thank him warmly for his valuable contribution to the work of the Commission, not only in this mandate but also in the previous mandate where he was the commissioner in charge of agriculture and rural development.

“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 (of Commissioners) to be particularly vigilant about compliance with applicable national or regional rules or recommendations.”

Ms von der Leyen said she will ask the Irish Government to propose two candidates – one woman and one man – for the role.

She added: “Executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis will assume interim responsibilities for trade matters and at a later stage I will decide on the final allocation of portfolios in the College of Commissioners.”

The Oireachtas Golf Society event
The Oireachtas Golf Society event

Veteran politician Mr Hogan faced deep disquiet from the Irish Government and intense scrutiny of whether his extensive movements around the country broke coronavirus regulations.

A statement from Dublin said: “We believe that it is the correct course of action given the circumstances of the past week.

“We all have a responsibility to support and adhere to public health guidelines and regulations.”

Mr Hogan confirmed he had tendered his resignation as EU trade commissioner to Ms von der Leyen.

He said: “It was becoming increasingly clear that the controversy concerning my recent visit to Ireland was becoming a distraction from my work as an EU commissioner and would undermine my work in the key months ahead.”

He travelled around Ireland during his summer break from Brussels, despite official rules saying he should have self-isolated upon arrival for 14 days, because of the rate of infection abroad.

Ms von der Leyen had sought an explanation from her commissioner.

Mr Hogan said: “I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland, the country that I have been so proud to represent as a public servant for most of my adult life, caused such concern, unease and upset.

“I have always tried to comply with all relevant Covid-19 regulations in Ireland and had understood that I had met with all relevant public health guidelines, particularly following confirmation of a negative Covid-19 test.”

He took the test in Dublin and also visited his home in Co Kildare in the Irish midlands.

Kildare was subjected to extra-strict lockdown measures because of an outbreak of Covid-19 there linked to meat plants.

The commissioner said: “I reiterate my heartfelt apology to the Irish people for the mistakes I made during my visit.”

Ireland’s new coalition government has suffered a wobbly start with a series of resignations.

It lost its agriculture minister after Dara Calleary was among the guests at the Irish parliament’s golf society dinner last week in the coastal town of Clifden in Co Galway.