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Brexit: Valdis Dombrovskis becomes EU trade chief as Ireland loses crucial portfolio

Edmund Heaphy
·Finance and news reporter
·2-min read
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JULY 15 : EU Commissioner for An Economy That Works for People - Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis is talking to media during a press conference presenting the EU package to fight tax evasion, on July 15, 2020, in the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)
Valdis Dombrovskis will become the EU's trade commissioner at a crucial time in Brexit negotiations. Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday said that she had appointed Valdis Dombrovskis as the EU’s trade chief, a pivotal role in the bloc amid stalled Brexit negotiations and global trade tensions.

The appointment follows Von der Leyen’s decision to select Mairead McGuinness to fill the vacancy left by Phil Hogan, the Irishman who resigned as trade commissioner after coming under fire for breaching coronavirus restrictions in Ireland.

While McGuinness will take over the bloc’s crucial financial services portfolio, Ireland had been hoping that its nominee would retain the trade role, which is considered one of the most powerful positions in the EU.

READ MORE: UK government defends trade role for controversial ex-Australian prime minister

Hogan’s appointment to the role, which oversees the sprawling arm of the bloc that negotiates trade deals and commercial policy, had been seen as a powerful signal that the EU would prioritise Ireland’s interests in Brexit negotiations.

Dombrovskis, the former prime minister of Latvia, currently oversees the bloc’s economic and financial affairs policy.

He had temporarily been serving as trade commissioner following Hogan’s resignation.

Hogan was pressured to resign days after it emerged that he attended an 81-person dinner that breached coronavirus guidelines in Ireland.

McGuinness, who was chosen over the Irish government’s other nominee, Andrew McDowell, is the current first vice-president of the European Parliament.

READ MORE: EU trade commissioner under fire after breaching coronavirus guidelines

She has served as a lawmaker in the parliament for Ireland’s Midlands–North-West constituency since 2004.

Von der Leyen cited McGuinness’s “significant political experience on EU issues” on Tuesday.

In particular, McGuinness has been a staunch defender of the EU’s Brexit stance, and though her portfolio is less prominent than Ireland may have wanted, the financial services brief will play a consequential role in negotiations with the UK, considering London’s status as a financial centre.

Though her portfolio has been carved out from Dombrovskis’ current role, Dombrovksis will continue to serve as the commission’s representative on the Eurogroup, the grouping of eurozone finance ministers.

McGuinness’s appointment, and Dombrovskis’ new portfolio, will require the approval of the European Parliament.