Blog AnalysisEU Institutions

Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan resigns. The end of impunity

(B2) Caught in the act of breaking the coronavirus regulations imposed on the Irish, the European Commissioner for Trade, the Irishman Phil Hogan, ended up dropping the handlebars

Phil Hogan in his Berlaymont offices (credit: European Commission)

After a few days of questioning, and half-lies (1), the Fine Gael politician appointed by Ireland to be its representative in the European executive ended up realizing the obvious: it was necessary better to leave on his own than to be kicked out by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. The situation had indeed become untenable, with the Golfgate affair.

A golfgate that is wreaking havoc

The politician had participated with 80 guests in a gala dinner of theOireachtas Golf Society, the Irish Parliament Golf Club a week ago (Wednesday 19th August). This exceeded the authorized gauge of 50 people for such a meeting. In the middle of a period of tightening of the bolts – passage in particular to a bubble of 6 people – the event goes badly, and the word is weak, in green Ireland. In turn, the personalities present at the event are required to explain themselves and to assume. The Minister of Agriculture has already resigned, judges too... And several government officials have asked that Phil Hogan follow suit.

A status of relative independence

Only problem, a European commissioner, once proposed by his government, is dubbed at the same time by the president of the Commission and the European Parliament. This status guarantees it relative independence. He leaves his national costume and local habits and customs, to become an atypical being, who only depends on the European sphere. He can then only be forced to resign by those who validated him. In other words, Ireland no longer has a say. And only the European authorities (or the interested party himself) can resign him. It is this argument that the European executive first put forward to refuse any movement towards the door for its Trade Commissioner.

A counterpart to the independence of European Commissioners

However, this exceptional status has several counterparts. One is official and expressly indicated by the Treaty: to devote all one's time to European activity. However, one can really wonder if attending a gala dinner of the Irish parliamentary golf club really falls within the mandate of a Trade Commissioner, or even within the tradition of the European Commission's presence at national events. The answer is quite quick and obvious. It's no. The presence of Phil Hogan was above all due to his nationality, Irish, to his political activities on the island, and even possibly to his future aims. He could therefore no longer really plead his function as commissioner to claim to be untouchable. This is what jurists would call a " detachable act ". There was a real contradiction there that had to be resolved.

Necessary loyalty to the population

Then, and above all, there is an unwritten clause in the status of commissioner: you have to be loyal not only to your constituents, to the States, but also to the European population. However, the way in which Phil Hogan sought to clear himself and apologize for his presence could be more 'limit'. In his word " warm “thanks for all his action” for his tireless and fruitful work », Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, did not fail to remind him that everyone should be responsible for their actions.

Von der Leyen's call to order

« In the current circumstances, as Europe struggles to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and Europeans make sacrifices and accept painful restrictions, I expect members of the College to be particularly vigilant in respecting the rules or applicable national or regional recommendations “, said Ursula von der Leyen in a declaration published today. Notice to fans...

Comments : The time of impunity seems to be over. The exit will be close for those who do not respect certain rules, written as unwritten.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Arrested by the Garda (Irish police) for driving while on the phone, he was also caught in the act of violating confinement rules. Minor point in itself if it hadn't been denied initially.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).