Valdis Dombrovskis has been named as the new EU trade policy chief following the shock departure of Ireland’s Phil Hogan last month.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she had chosen Mr Dombrovskis, the EU’s executive vice-president for economic policy, to take on the key role as part of a switch that also included removing some of his current responsibilities.

The move marks the first personnel change in Ms von der Leyen’s team of national commissioners since she took office in December. It was one prompted by scandal — with Mr Hogan having to resign after revelations of flouting coronavirus lockdown restrictions in Ireland. 

Ms von der Leyen’s announcement confirms that, as a result of Mr Hogan’s downfall, Ireland has lost the coveted trade portfolio. The country’s replacement EU commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, will instead be in charge of financial services and financial stability. 

Ms McGuinness is currently the first vice-president of the European parliament.

“Ms McGuinness has significant political experience on EU issues having been an MEP since 2004,” Ms von der Leyen said. “This experience is crucial in carrying through the EU’s financial sector policy agenda.”

EU diplomats had predicted the choice of Mr Dombrovskis, a former Latvian prime minister, noting that he was a leading commissioner from the centre-right European People’s party, the same political family as Mr Hogan, and had strong governmental experience. One senior diplomat on Monday said that he was the logical choice unless Ms von der Leyen “does something crazy”. 

The decision is a further boost for the Latvian, whom Ms von der Leyen chose last year as one of a triumvirate of top-level commissioners in her team. His elevation to the rank of executive vice-president was a surprise move at the time — the product of Ms von der Leyen wrestling with how to find political balance in the highest echelons of the commission.

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For Ireland’s new commissioner, Dublin gave Ms von der Leyen a choice between Ms McGuinness and former European Investment Bank vice-president Andrew McDowell.

Ms McGuinness’s financial services portfolio has been carved out of Mr Dombrovskis’ current remit as the commission’s “executive vice-president for an economy that works for people”.

Ms von der Leyen clarified that despite giving up control of financial services policy, Mr Dombrovskis would continue to be one of the commissioners that attends monthly eurogroup meetings of euro area finance ministers, given his oversight over EU economic policy. He will also remain an executive vice-president.

Both Ms McGuinness and Mr Dombrovskis will attend confirmation hearings with the European parliament in their new roles.

Via Financial Times