Public Affairs & Government Relations

Trade’s turbulent summer – key changes to EU’s trade team

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An overview from FTI Consulting Brussels

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has appointed (8/9/2020) Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrowskis as Commissioner-designate for Trade – one of the most powerful portfolios within the institution. FTI Consulting’s trade team – led by Senior Advisor John Clancy – argues that this shows Europe strengthening its trade mandate – especially in the eyes of global partners but the former Latvian prime minister faces a host of challenges if he is to renew EU trade policy.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall

The claim that August is a quiet month in Brussels has not rung true for more than a decade, at least. Insiders recognise that Europe’s summer period is often disturbed by crisis either internal or external.

August led to upheaval inside the EU Commission’s headquarters itself with the towering EU trade Commissioner. ‘Big Phil’ Hogan forced to resign after it emerged that he attended a golf dinner in a hotel when on holiday in his native Ireland, criss-crossing the country in an alleged breach of the Irish government’s Covid-19 lockdown rules. Few insiders believe he would have been forced to step-down if he had offered an immediate and unambiguous apology as well as having been clear on his movements from the moment the story hit the Irish headlines. An arrogant insistence that he would not resign ultimately cost him his job.

There are few trade watchers who did not believe that Hogan had merited one of the EU’s top jobs after his first successful stint on agriculture during the Juncker Commission. He was largely regarded as a good negotiator having hammered out the thorny issue of agricultural quotas in the EU-Mercosur trade agreement. However, it’s also fair to say he had not yet been significantly tested as Europe’s trade chief. Indeed, his commitment to the job was in some doubt after his rather shambolic and ultimately failed bid to enter the race for the next WTO chief – just months after having taken office. This cost him politically inside the Commission.  He was forced to temporarily hand over trade matters to Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis while he contemplated his candidacy, a process that frustrated many of his EU colleagues. This episode certainly did not show Hogan to be the deft political strategist and negotiator many had claimed he was. It was a political car crash of his own making.

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