BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis will take temporary responsibility for trade after the resignation of Ireland’s Phil Hogan over allegations he broke COVID-19 guidelines, EU executive chief Ursula von der Leyen said.
The former Latvian prime minister will take charge as the European Union seeks to ease trade tensions with the United States, seal a deal on future relations with Britain and unite around a new leader for the World Trade Organization.
Dombrovskis previously stood in for two weeks in June when Hogan said he was considering putting himself forward to become the next WTO director-general. He finally opted not to do so.
The Commission coordinates trade policy for the EU’s 27 members, meaning the EU trade chief is among the most powerful of the “college” of commissioners.
Von der Leyen said on Thursday that the Irish government should propose a man and a woman as potential successors and she would later determine the final allocation of tasks. Ireland may not retain the trade portfolio.
Prime Minister Micheal Martin said Ireland would look at von der Leyen’s preference for two nominees and that he planned to meet his coalition partners to discuss a successor.
Asked if he would be interested in replacing Hogan, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters his intention was to continue to lead his Fine Gael party and to take over as prime minister again in 2022 under a coalition deal.
Varadkar, who was prime minister from 2017 to 2020, has been named by some newspapers as a potential though unlikely candidate.
Others mentioned include Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, former minister Richard Bruton, European Parliament members Mairead McGuinness and Frances Fitzgerald, and former senior EU officials David O’Sullivan and Catherine Day.
Hogan quit late on Wednesday after days of pressure over allegations he had breached COVID-19 guidelines during a trip to Ireland, saying the controversy had become a distraction from his work.
He said in his resignation statement that he did not break any law but should have been more rigorous in his adherence to the COVID-19 regulations.
Von der Leyen said she expected her team to be particularly vigilant about complying with national or regional coronavirus restrictions.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)