How Hogan’s resignation presents Von der Leyen with a fresh headache

Brussels has put the ball in Dublin’s court to find a successor to EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan, who quit on Wednesday evening.

Hogan resigned after becoming embroiled in controversy over whether he flouted COVID-19 restrictions on a recent trip home to Ireland.

Ursula Von der Leyen told reporters on Thursday that it was now up to Ireland to suggest candidates to replace Hogan.

His resignation means the EU will be looking to fill a key commissioner role at a difficult time: there are fraught ongoing trade relations with the United States and China and the final months of talks on a future deal with post-Brexit Britain are approaching.

“This certainly will become a headache for Von der Leyen and the new [European] Commission because this will lead to a reshuffle of her college – this is very likely,” EU analyst Alberto Alemanno told Euronews.

Hogan began his working life managing a family farm in rural Ireland before entering politics, becoming a government minister in Dublin in the mid-1990s.

But it was in 2014 that he moved to Brussels, becoming agriculture commissioner under Jean-Claude Juncker and proving to be one of Ireland’s key voices during the Brexit negotiations.

Highly regarded, Hogan was promoted to one of the EU’s most powerful positions as trade commissioner under Von Der Leyen. He was key to negotiating with the US and securing the EU-Japan trade deal.

But after a recent visit to Ireland, he has come under fire in his home country amid allegations he skirted rules other Irish citizens have to live by to contain the second wave of the pandemic: Not only had Hogan attended a posh golf dinner with some 80 guests when maximum attendance should have been much lower, but he was also criticised for travelling in parts of Ireland where a lockdown applied — and for emerging early from a mandatory two-week quarantine.

He contested some perceived errors but also acknowledged a fundamental flaw in not paying enough attention to the rigours of the anti-COVID-19 fight while the public at large was constrained from morning till night.

“I fully understand (people’s) sense of hurt and anger when they feel that those in public service do not meet the standards expected of them,” he said. “As a public representative, I should have been more rigorous in my adherence to the COVID guidelines.”

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