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Ireland 'to put Mairead McGuinness & Andrew McDowell forward' to replace Phil Hogan at EU Commission

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By Euronews
A year ago: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announces Ireland's Phil Hogan as candidate for EU Trade Commissioner in Brussels,  Sept. 10, 2019.
A year ago: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announces Ireland's Phil Hogan as candidate for EU Trade Commissioner in Brussels, Sept. 10, 2019.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

The Irish government is set to put forward Mairead McGuinness and Andrew McDowell as candidates to be the country's next EU commissioner, sources have confirmed to Euronews.

A vacancy arose after Phil Hogan - Ireland's last EU commissioner - resigned from the trade portfolio amid controversy over a breach of local COVID-19 restrictions on a recent trip home.

MEP McGuinness, who is vice-president of the European Parliament and outgoing European Investment Bank (EIB) vice-president McDowell both have strong EU credentials.

It will then be up to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to assess them. The Irish candidates are expected to be interviewed next week. Each EU country is represented by one commissioner, but it is far from certain that Ireland will keep the key trade position in Brussels, and a reshuffle is possible.

Once a candidate is chosen to represent Ireland, MEPs will grill the nominee before they can pack their bags for Brussels.

Von der Leyen had asked Dublin to put forward appropriate candidates, "a woman and a man".

Announcing the candidacies on Friday, the office of the Irish Taoiseach Michéal Martin said: "The Government believes that both are candidates of the highest calibre, possessing the necessary competence, independence and European commitment to serve in the role of Commissioner with distinction."

McGuinness has been an MEP for the Fine Gael party since 2004 and has served on several parliamentary committees — including one overseeing Brexit, where she maintained a high profile as the process progressed.

She often clashed with Nigel Farage and gained notoriety in January when the UK left the EU, telling his Brexit Party MEPs to "please sit down, resume your seats, put your flags away, you're leaving, and take them with you", as the nationalist group waved a noisy and triumphant goodbye in the chamber.

Andrew McDowell, EIB vice-president until this week, was the chief economic adviser to former Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. He played a key role as the government imposed austerity budgets in the wake of the banking and financial crisis.

The vacancy left by Phil Hogan's resignation comes at a difficult time for the European Union: 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.

There was strong pressure in Ireland for Hogan to quit amid the coronavirus row. His eventual resignation was nevertheless a big loss to the country on the world stage. As trade commissioner, he held one of the EU's most powerful positions, and he was key to negotiating with the US and securing the EU-Japan trade deal.

In the interim period since Hogan stepped down, the trade role has been assumed by Latvia's Valdis Dombrovskis, one of the European Commission's vice-presidents.