18th Sep 2020

Irish MEP picked as new finance commissioner

  • MEP Mairead McGuinness was applauded by fellow MEPs when scolding Nigel Farage at the last plenary with Britain's EU lawmakers (Photo: European Parliament)

Veteran Irish centre-right MEP Mairead McGuinness was proposed as Ireland's new commissioner by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday (8 September).

McGuinness will replace Phil Hogan, former trade commissioner, who was forced to resign after breaching coronavirus lockdown rules in the so-called 'golfgate' scandal.

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Von der Leyen chose the financial market, financial stability and capital markets union portfolio for McGuinness, and instead passed trade issues to commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis.

The mini-reshuffle means the Latvian commissioner will take charge of settling tensions with the US, efforts to rein in China, and concluding trade talks with Australia and New Zealand. He has already been handling trade issues since Hogan quit.

Dombroviskis will continue to oversee the EU economy, and take part in the eurogroup meetings of eurozone finance ministers, alongside economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni.

McGuinness will take part in the economic council with member states' ministers.

Von der Leyen said McGuinness has a "significant political experience on EU issues", which would be "crucial in carrying forward the EU financials sector policy agenda".

The new commissioner will still have to be appointed by the council after seeking of opinion of the European Parliament, which entails a hearing for McGuinness by her fellow MEPs in the economy committee.

But first the parliament's legal affairs committee will check if she has any possible conflicts of interest.

The parliament's trade committee will also want to hear from Dombrovskis.

Von der Leyen can reshuffle portfolios among sitting commissioners, but the parliament can ask for an exchange of views.

Trade committee chair Bernd Lange said Dombrovskis' new set of tasks was an "unusual portfolio, to say the least".

"Looking forward to welcoming Dombrovskis to his hearing in front of the trade committee soon!," Lange added.

However, von der Leyen kept the shake up of her commission to a minimum - reinforcing her image as a commission president who values stability over grandiose political surprises.

Dombrovkis, a former Latvian prime minister, holds onto overseeing the EU economy, while a part of his portfolio went to the new Irish commissioner.

It will involve leading the commission's banking and finance reform, and it will give McGuinness a key role in overseeing access of the City of London to EU markets.

Ireland has been amassing several financial portfolios: former Irish finance minister Paschal Donohoe was chosen in July to head the eurogroup.

McGuinness has been an MEP since 2004 and has served as the assembly's deputy president since 2017. She is largely well-respected and liked among fellow MEPs.

Recently, she won praise when she chaired the parliamentary plenary during the last-ever session with Britain's departing MEPs.

McGuinness scolded Nigel Farage and his fellow Brexit party MEPs for waving the British flag in the chamber, which is a breach of parliamentary procedure.

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