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[00:00:08]

Hello and welcome to The Stand with Amy Dumphy.

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The stand is proudly supported by Tesco and Tesco, our exclusive house for over 65 family carers and extremely medically vulnerable customers are every weekday, Monday to Friday, up to nine a.m.. Health care and emergency services have priority access at all other times now more than ever. Every little helps. Now the consequences of the Iraq Disc Golf Society's day out in Clifton last week and of course, the dinner attended by 81 people have been severe for many people. The minister for Agriculture director resigned.

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Supreme Court Judge Seamus Wolff and former attorney general until recently has now been is now the subject of an investigation ordered by the chief justice, which will be carried out by the former chief justice, Susan Denham. But perhaps and Sean O'Rourke, the author broadcaster, has also had his proposed new radio series cancelled by AUTE. Perhaps the highest profile and most powerful individual at that golf outing was the European Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, and he has avoided the media so far.

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Both both the shock May Homerton and the tarnished Leo Varadkar have asked him to consider his position. And one Finnish foreign minister yesterday and Minister for Housing has said he should resign. We're joined now from Brussels, where Mr Hogan's fate will be decided by Naomi O'Leary, who is the Irish Times correspondent in Brussels and also the host of The Irish Passport, her own podcast, which is really good as well. Naomi, normally, as you point out in your piece in the Irish Times today, normally domestic stories wouldn't cut through in Brussels, particularly in August when it closes down.

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But because this concerns the pandemic, which is, of course, afflicting everybody around the world, this particular case has come through.

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That's right. It's the number one story really on the agenda. And it's dominating in its no dominated several of the European Commission's press conferences with journalists trying to get clarity. And I think part of the reason for this is that the commissioner, Phil Hogan, has made things worse for himself by not disclosing everything to begin with and not coming out ahead of it and apologizing immediately, but letting it be a drip, drip, drip of information that comes out, some of it contradicting his prior statements and being forced into an apology.

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And so that's kept the story running and kind of building momentum to find out what President Ursula von der Leyen is going to do about it. Yes.

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And you point out in your piece in the Irish Times today, something I didn't know, but it is that commissioners are hard to dislodge. There's only one previous example of a commissioner being sacked. Can you tell us who that was and why he, Malta's commissioner, John Daley, was sacked?

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Right. So the Maltese commissioner, John Dalli, was sacked back in 2012. I believe it was after it was a major scandal, essentially, where there were accusations that tobacco lobbyists had tried to bribe him to change health legislation. Yes. And it was quite a serious and ongoing scandal. And he ended up losing his job over that. And there's also a previous case in the 1990s when the entire commission, all the commissioners resigned because they were there was a very bad relationship going on with the European Parliament.

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But it's a bit of a different case. They are difficult to dislodge. And essentially there are those who say that you don't want to set a precedent, that national governments can ask commissioners to resign and then they have to resign because then essentially you would destabilize the commission because any country like Hungary or Poland could decide for their own motives to ask a commissioner to resign, and that because there's 27 member states, it just could, you know, really destabilize the commission and and cause chaos.

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Yes.

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And of course, the facts will be the key thing. And it seems that Hogan initially gave Ursula von der Leyen a two page explanation at. What he may may have to be revised, because all along the line, he has omitted certain things. And again, pointing to your piece in this morning's Irish Times, you noted that the commission's spokeswoman, Dana Spin aunt, who came out yesterday, took a noticeably cool, cool tone towards Mr. Hogan. And in the Irish Times today, your colleague Jack Power has a timeline for Mr.

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Holden's movements. Commissioner Hogan's movements dating back to July 30th and reading it very carefully. It appears that Mr. Hogan didn't just break the guidelines or breached the guidelines on the golf day, but he may well have breached it two or three times before any golf day in relation to the lock down in Kildare.

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And even this morning, there is more information coming out that he returned again to the Killdeer property, not just on his way to the golf dinner, but again to spend the night before traveling back to Brussels. Yeah, so and you know, the constant flow of new information I don't think helps him because it keeps this story fresh and it makes you question, you know, why was he not forthcoming with all of this information to begin with?

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Now, this crisis for Phil Hogan comes at a time he's the trade commissioner. It comes out right at the critical moment in the Brexit negotiations and the trade deal that the EU and UK are trying to do. There's also trade talks with the U.S. and with China. So the timing is wretched from the commission's point of view.

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That's right. It is an incredibly important portfolio. The trade portfolio actually has the ability to influence policy around the world because the EU is a massive economic and regulatory powerhouse. And, you know, the policies that it sets off an influence policies all around the world. And so having Phil Hogan in that position makes him a very powerful one of the most high profile commissioners. There are those who say that that's good for Ireland as well. You know, it's good to have an Irish person in that in that position, also in the context of Brexit.

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Now, while he's not responsible for the negotiations, that's Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator. He is an important background player. He meets with Barnier regularly. And in the past, he's also used his own media profile to kind of play bad cop when needed with the with the British and, you know, issue make statements, kind of telling them to get their act together. So he's viewed he has been viewed quite well on the commission. As you know, one of the strongest commissioners, I suppose he had a reputation as a good negotiator.

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And, you know, they would have been sorry to lose him. But there have been a number of things that have sort of taken the glass off, Commissioner Hogan, a bit. The other thing to point out is while, you know, in Ireland, he's viewed as an Irish man in Brussels as commissioner, he does represent the whole EU. So, you know, it is important the commissioners don't favour national interests. But at the same time, of course, as well as being he's also a previous agriculture commissioner.

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So he does have a deep understanding of issues that are important to Ireland right now, particularly to do with farming, agriculture and trade.

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Yes. And in your piece for The Irish Times this morning, you point out something that no one else has referred to since this controversy began. You point out that in June, Commissioner Hogan floated himself as a potential candidate to be the next director general of the World Trade Organisation. That's a massive job.

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But he was prepared at that point in June to abandon ship really at a critical moment for the EU in its Brexit negotiations. In particular, he was prepared to jump ship. Is that going to be in the negative box when Ursula van der Leyen does her some?

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I really don't think it's helped him because that irked the president have underlined by all accounts, it wasn't welcome that just half a year into his job and that's such a critical moment. He, you know, began to I know the position. It had real concrete implications. He wasn't able to take decisions by himself any more in case there was a conflict of interest. And so he needed oversight by another commissioner to sign documents and things like that. So essentially, he kind of wasn't really able to do his job properly for the time until he made his position.

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Regarding the role and also the camp, if he were to campaign for director general of the WTO, he would have had to have kind of gone on gardening leave. So have left his post temporarily for the position and in order to campaign. And, you know, that would have left the trade portfolio unmanned for a period. And I think that's ultimately he ultimately he didn't go for it because President Buntline, you know, laid this out and, you know, I think probably expressed her opposition.

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And but in all the the act itself of floating himself wasn't well received and he didn't get the support that he thought he would. So that really kind of undermined his image as someone who's got this unique political cunning because that was a blunder and it's weakened him coming into this crisis.

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Yes. And of course, he was only six months into his job as the EU trade commissioner. This is a big test, isn't it, for the commission president, Ursula von der Leyen? And and she has what primarily will she be taking into account? Her spokesperson yesterday suggested the details of the timeline, uh, particularly, uh, when the Commissioner Hogan came back to Ireland, which was, I think, July 30th, and all of these trips around the country possibly breaking and also breaking the 14 day quarantine rule from Brussels, because Belgium is on the red list, as it were.

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So there's a lot to take into account, but it's difficult to see a fudge that's available to the president of the commission.

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Yes. I think the other thing that's important to note is that initially Commissioner Hogan, his team had said that he traveled directly from Kilkenny to go away and subsequently because he was stopped by guards for for using his mobile phone while driving in Kildare, it emerged that actually he had gone viral there. But it but initially the European Commission had repeated that line from Phil Hogan's team. So they had to say they said specifically that he went from Kilkenny to go away.

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So that would appear to have been their information at the time, which I assume came from him. So what he's done is he has allowed them to to say something that wasn't true. And I don't think that that is appreciated. So the commission's spokeswoman, Donna Spenard, said that they're looking for clarification about, you know, what was said on Friday versus what was what is being said now and that she said details are important. And she also said there are legal questions, but there are also moral questions at issue.

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Yes. Yes.

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And of course, the pandemic is sweeping across the world. Europe has suffered very badly and continues to suffer. France and Spain having new surges. Even Germany, there are spikes. So this is really what elevates this, isn't it? Now, may this breach, if it is a breach of the guidelines, it while Hogan was in Ireland, this breach of the guidelines, it makes it vital in a way that the commission shows leadership.

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I think the commission is sensitive to its image. You know, it got a lot of criticism at the outbreak of the pandemic for not seeming to have been on top of it. And so they are very sensitive to to their image and they're going to have to balance that against the value that the commissioner holds for them and also the difficulty of replacing him because it is a logistical headache to replace the commissioner. And the commission is made up of a very delicate balance that represents the different big political parties in Europe, as well as the geography and also gender and also other considerations.

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So there would need to essentially be another candidate to fill his shoes from a finical background. And, yes, you know, they would have to probably be a reshuffle because they would be unlikely to give the trade portfolio to Ireland again and they might move an existing commissioner into it and give Ireland whatever vacancy emerged. And so it's also a difficult process where you have to have hearings with European Parliament and all of that. And as we say, you know, it's a very important time for trade right now.

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So this is a welcome. If there's any way that they could kind of hold on to him, I think they will. But they are really sensitive about this issue. They've been wrestling with the pandemic since February. They've been trying to show that they're on top of it and they've even even the European Commission itself actually launched a service for EU citizens where they can see what the regulations are in all different countries, check them before they go in order for them to follow them.

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Yes.

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How damaging for Ireland is this? Because the trade portfolio is a very prestigious and important portfolio of all the portfolios that the commission dispense. This is a really big job, isn't it, because the French are not the only ones, but for Ireland, but for France and Germany. And it's a critical portfolio, isn't it? How damaging for Ireland that we have screwed up like this? Yeah, it's definitely something that Arland highly valued having. I mean, they were delighted to have the Irish commissioner in that role and particularly now it was seen through the Brexit lens in Ireland that he it was very vital to have someone who really got the concerns and the of trade in Ireland in that position.

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And now whether I think ultimately so far at least, Commissioner Hogan hasn't actually played such a big role in Brexit yet and as perhaps people thought, but maybe that's because there's just been no progress really in the negotiations. So there hasn't been much to talk about. There hasn't been much of a role for him to play. So obviously, it is crunch time now and we're expecting that over the next two months it will be decided one way or another what the trade relationship with between the UK and the EU is going to be from January the 1st.

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So, you know, it is a very crucial time. And I think that there will be many people in Ireland who think that it's a pity that it has gone this way, that it's ended up how it is. But, you know, the facts are what they are. And it seems that Commissioner Hogan has made a series of decisions that really he only has himself to blame for for compromising his position.

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What's your feeling about how long this process of deciding his future will take?

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It's a really interesting one. Um, I think the feeling is that it ought to be quick. So perhaps today, Tuesday, or at least by Wednesday. But then again, perhaps the commission might feel that it's on its side to be thorough and slow, to let the dust settle a bit, to let passions cool and make the decision accordingly. So they may try to do that. They won't I don't think they'll rush into this. They won't they won't make their decision lightly, I don't think.

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But what we can expect is it's kind of puzzling that Commissioner Hogan has yet to make an appearance in public to speak to media. I mean, the T shock has gone on radio to be grilled, but Commissioner Hogan has not spoken to anybody.

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And so to me, that's when the shock was on the klavern yesterday morning. He specifically requested that Phil Hogan give an interview and account for himself. Right.

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And the European Commission has also said that they would expect him to do the same. But, you know, he is he's I don't know. He's in his house, I guess.

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And all we have to go on are two tweets on his Twitter and a statement that he issued through at the European Commission representation in Ireland apologising. So, you know, they're very tight lipped. His team are very tight lipped.

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And he's he's not making himself available, I think, and knowing the commissioner reasonably well. And he's not into apologies and he's not into explanations, the journalists either. So I wouldn't hold my breath now waiting for Phil to is there, shall we say, humble pie. I just want to ask you a couple of final questions. The Brexit negotiations are clearly going badly. And Michel Barnier had quite a lot of some of it bitter to say about the British.

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And of course, the reverse is true as well. The British bemoaning the EU's, um, lack of urgency or whatever. This is a bad time, isn't it, for this to happen and the next two months are critical for the EU and the UK because the stakes are so high. If there's a no deal Brexit, we're all going to suffer severely.

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Yeah, Ireland in particular will suffer if there's a no deal Brexit. So according to the economic forecasts, the hardest hit of all will be Britain. But yes, after that, as Ireland and there are other EU countries that will take a severe hit as well, particularly Belgium and the Netherlands. So Ireland isn't alone in, you know, strongly opposing a no deal. I think that is the position of most EU member states, really. I don't think that anyone wants to no deal.

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But it is just extremely difficult to resolve when you have positions that are starkly irreconcilable and see, you know, the British side doesn't seem to want to move and the EU feel that they cannot compromise on several matters. But this this will I expect this to heat up in the weeks to come. I think everyone's expecting that the real deadline for deciding whether or not it's going to be a no deal or not is the end of October. So maybe the first week of November at latest.

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Can I finally. I ask you to assess what I'm about to say, really what we're looking at here, leaving aside our own interest in Phil Hogan and his portfolio, what the commission is reflecting on here is in the middle of the worst pandemic in living memory, which has afflicted every country in the world and many countries in Europe badly. And one of the senior commissioners has apparently breached the guidelines on a number of occasions. How can they possibly not deal with him rigorously?

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Is that roughly the calculation that they have to make? I think they have to choose between two difficult options and getting rid of him is awkward for them, as we've discussed, but keeping him is also not. It also has its downsides. You know, I do think that for people in Ireland, it would seem inexplicable for many people in Ireland how he could keep his job. Yes, that would you know you know, the EU is battling all the time, battling accusations about being undemocratic and unaccountable, and they're sensitive to that.

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And I think that this case is one where it would be very easy for people to to point at Brussels and say, oh, look, they are they are unaccountable after all. Yes.

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OK, Naomi, thank you very much indeed for joining us from Brussels. And our military is the Irish Times Europe correspondent and host of a very good podcast, The Irish Passport. We're very grateful to Naomi, to you for listening and of course, to Tasco, our sponsors. That's all we have time for now. We'll talk to you soon. The stand is proudly supported by Tesco at Tesco, our exclusive ours for over 65 family carers and extremely medically vulnerable customers are every weekday, Monday to Friday, up to nine a.m..

[00:22:57]

Health care and emergency services have priority access at all other times now more than ever. Every little helps.