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.
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.
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.