Less than two weeks after the resignation of Irish Phil Hogan as Trade Commissioner for failing to comply with measures against the pandemic, the European Commission has already found him a replacement. Former Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, who is serving his second term in the Berlaymont building and knows how it works, will take office. Along with his responsibilities in the Trade area, he will continue to serve as economic vice president, and will be in charge of relations with the Eurogroup. In this retouching of positions, the new face will be the Irish Mairead McGuinness, 61, until now vice-president of the European Parliament. The decision of the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to choose her between the two candidates proposed by Dublin – the other was the former vice president of the European Investment Bank Andrew McDowell – brings the Community Executive closer to parity. If the European Parliament and Council give their approval to the appointment, the Commission would have 14 men and 13 women, including Von der Leyen herself.
The president of the Commission has taken advantage of the change for McGuinness to assume the portfolio of Financial Services, a step that fits well with his economic background, but that strips Ireland of the responsibilities of Trade that his predecessor, Phil Hogan, considered by Dublin key to their interests in the final stretch of negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom. Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis cedes this position to McGuinness, and with his landing in Commerce he assumes a position of greater cache, not only because of being linked to the complex outcome of the discussions with London, but also to the de-escalation of tensions with the United States, which it could be accelerated in the event of an eventual victory for Democrat Joe Biden in the November election.
With the pandemic still alive and waiting for a hot autumn due to the clash with London and the economic crisis to come, Von der Leyen wants to have his team fully operational as soon as possible. This Monday he interviewed the two candidates proposed by Ireland, and a few hours later he revealed his preferred option in a contest in which McGuinness had an advantage due to the small but obvious superiority in the number of men. Now it will be the turn of the Twenty-seven and the European Parliament to give the go-ahead after submitting to a hearing. In this last institution his name is not unknown. McGuinness occupied the first vice-presidency until now, and his row with the eurosceptic Nigel Farage was very popular last January, when in full euphoria of his bench for Brexit he blurted out: “If you go, take your flags.”
Von der Leyen highlighted the European “extensive experience” of the two contenders for the job. And she recalled that McGuinness knows the institutions well, which she has served as a MEP since 2004. Her election maintains the same political balance. Despite the fact that the Irish Government is led by the liberal Micheál Martin, the European People’s Party, which is part of the Executive coalition, in which the Greens are also present, will retain the portfolio in Brussels.
There is the paradox that Dublin, which forced the resignation of the previous commissioner, Phil Hogan, for attending a dinner with 80 people organized by a golf club – the so-called Golfgate– and to breach health restrictions, he now sees his country lose a key position in the community gear, although McGuinness’ new place is not less. In any case, Ireland, despite its controversial tax regime, advantageous for multinationals, continues to have representation in European organizations well above its population or its economic influence: it monopolizes the presidency of the Eurogroup in the hands of Paschal Donohoe, who is imposed in extremis the Spanish Nadia Calviño, and the chief economist of the European Central Bank is the Irish Philip Lane.