EUROPEAN Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen snatched the bloc’s top trade job from Ireland today in a humiliating snub after the resignation of the country’s former top eurocrat.
The Commission President appointed Mairead McGuinness, a former television presenter, as the next Irish commissioner. But Dublin was dealt a harsh blow by Mrs von der Leyen, who handed the role of the EU’s chief trade negotiator to Latvia’s top eurocrat. Ireland has been without a commissioner since Phil Hogan resigned from the post late last month.
Mr Hogan quit the £240,000-a-year role after becoming embroiled in a scandal over his failure to follow coronavirus health measures during a summer break to his home country.
In a snub to Dublin, Latvian Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis was handed his the influential job as the bloc’s trade chief.
Fine Gael MEP Ms McGuinness will take charge of the bloc’s financial services portfolio, a less senior role than her predecessor.
Mrs von der Leyen’s reshuffle comes as a significant blow to Dublin at a time when the country is charting its post-Brexit future.
The EU’s trade commissioner, while not at the frontline of the future relationship negotiations, is a key component in the discussions.
Ireland will lose influence during the wrangling over the free-trade agremeent as a result of the demotion.
Highlighting the importance of the trade role, Sabine Weyand, the department’s most senior official, said: “Trade is one of the best portfolios in the Commission.”
Hermann Kelly, president of the Irish Freedom Party, said: “This is a great letdown and embarrassment for Ireland.
“The EU clearly thinks we currently have no one good enough to fill the important trade portfolio.
“For years, the EU was saying during the Brexit negotiations that Ireland was at the centre of Europe.
“We can see Ireland is both geographically and politically at the periphery of their mind.”
The EU is current negotiating trade agreements with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and China.
Ms McGuinness pipped Andrew McDowell, an outgoing vice-president of the European Investment Bank, to the role after they were both nominated by the Irish government on Friday.
Former prime minister Leo Varadkar and foreign minister Simon Coveney were both linked with the job but never put forward by the government.
Mrs von der Leyen interviewed both candidates yesterday before making her decision.
“Mrs McGuinness has significant political experience on EU issues having been an MEP since 2004, and currently holding the post of first vice-president of the European Parliament,” the Commission President said.
“This experience is crucial in carrying forward the EU’s financial sector policy agenda and ensuring it supports and strengthens the commission’s key priority, notably the twin green and digital transition.”