Following the resignation of former Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, the Commission has reassigned two portfolios. Whilst in future, Vice Commission President Valdis Dombrovskis will also be responsible for trade policy, the Irish politician Mairead McGuinness will assume the financial services portfolio.
Almost a year to the day after the hearing of former Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, the two Commissioners-designate answered questions of Trade Committee MEPs on 2 October 2020. The reason for Commission President Ursula von der Leyen having to restructure her team after such a short time, is the result of Hogan’s resignation due to the so-called ”Golfgate” scandal in August 2020. However, his Irish successor Mairead McGuiness did not win the bid for the trade portfolio. Instead, Vice Commission President Valdis Dombrovskis will take it on, in addition to the economy portfolio, whilst McGuinness will be responsible for financial services. However, prior to their inauguration, both had to answer MEPs questions within the scope of a hearing.
Dombrovskis will become new Trade Commissioner
Valdis Dombrovskis, former Minister President of Latvia, had already been Vice Commission President in the Juncker Commission. Due to von der Leyen’s reshuffle, Dombrovskis’ competencies have been further increased because of him taking on the trade policy portfolio in future.
In the run-up to the hearing, Dombrovskis had already replied in writing to some questions, which had been asked by members of the International Trade Committee. In doing so, he emphasised the importance of trade policy for the EU’s economic output and its potential to effect positive changes within and outside the EU. Also mentioned was the principle of an open strategic autonomy as well as the importance of reforming the WTO and sustainable and environmental trade. Referring to the latter, Dombrovskis mentioned in the hearing the strong sustainability chapters in the trade agreements; however, he also described the difficulties regarding their enforcement. He would share the concerns of numerous MEPs and civil society in respect of the ratification of the EU-Mercosur Agreement; respective improvements were essential. He also announced a new anti-coercion mechanism, which shall ward off “coercive measures” of trading partners such as the USA and China. His note to them was as clear as his message for Great Britain: one would like to cooperate as closely as possible, but would also defend European interests.
McGuinness becomes Commissioner for financial services
The EU institutions know the Irish candidate Mairead McGuinness very well. The Conservative politician had been Vice President of the EU Parliament since 2014. Similar to Dombrovskis, she also answered a number of questions in writing in the run-up to the hearing. During the hearing itself, she mentioned among other the capital markets union and the banking union, digital financial services and a sustainable financial system. Overall, financial services in Europe shall become more digital, sustainable and inclusive. McGuinness also urged to prepare for Great Britain’s final parting and warned against depending too much on London as the financial centre. She rejected concerns, she might put the interests of the tax swamp Ireland before those of the EU.
Criticism on far-reaching competencies
As expected, the Irish Commissioner Mairead McGuinness also comes from within the ranks of the Conservatives. There was also criticism by the EU Parliament that Valdis Dombrovskis‘ competencies had been so massively expanded. For example, Kathleen Van Brempt (S&D), Member of the International Trade Committee, asked the question how Dombrovskis – given his already hefty portfolio – would find the time to also look after the trade portfolio.