EU ponders future of top trade official after travel gaffe

AP International News
Phil Hogan

FILE – In this Monday, Sept. 30, 2019 filer, European Commissioner designate for Trade Phil Hogan answers questions during his hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels. Ireland’s prime minister has been forced to defend the future of his government as criticism mounted over a golf event attended by senior politicians despite a ban on large gatherings designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. The scandal erupted last week amid reports that more than 80 people, including senior members of Martin’s party, Fianna Fael, attended a golf society dinner in Galway on Aug. 19. Former Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary resigned over his attendance, as has Jerry Buttimer, the deputy speaker of the Senate. The government at first asked Phil Hogan, the European Union trade commissioner, to “consider his position’’ after he, too, attended the event, but has given him some space to explain his actions. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Commision President Ursula von der Leyen was weighing the fate of Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan after the Irishman became embroiled in controversy over a recent trip home and questionable adherence to COVID-19 rules.

Hogan on Tuesday sent an explanatory report about his travel and social functions over the past weeks, including a golf society dinner he has apologized for. His activities have come under fire back home amid allegations he skirted the rules other Irish citizens have to adhere to.

Von der Leyen “will be ready to complete her assessment when she feels that she has the full picture on this matter,” Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said, without mentioning a deadline.

Spinant said that it was “premature to talk about a change in the composition” of the EU Commission, which is comprised of one official of each of the 27 member states. The EU has consistently underscored the importance of adhering to all restrictions imposed by the member countries and turning a blind eye to infractions by its own top officials would undermine that effort.

Hogan holds an important position in the bloc’s executive Commission, as he is the key person dealing with international trade issues, like commercial agreements with the United States or future relations with Britain, which officially left the EU on Jan. 31.

The scandal was fueled further by changes in Hogan’s account of his actions, as he issued a series of statements about his travel and adherence to the rules Ireland had imposed.

Hogan’s detailed memorandum to von der Leyen sparked renewed allegations that he violated Irish quarantine rules after he returned to the country from Brussels last month. Ireland requires anyone returning from a country with high levels of COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days.

Hogan said he returned to Ireland on July 31, filled out the required passenger locator form and self-isolated until Aug. 5, when he went to a hospital for an undisclosed medical procedure. Hogan said he stopped self-isolating after being discharged on Aug. 6 because he tested negative for COVID-19 during the hospital stay.

Hogan said he believed this was appropriate based on advice posted on the government-sponsored Citizens Information website. But the government website says people returning from any country that isn’t on the government’s “green list” should self-isolate for the full 14 days, regardless of testing.

“I was tested free of COVID-19,’’ Hogan said during a 20-minute interview with state broadcaster RTE. “And this meant that I was no longer required to be in self-isolation or quarantine.’’

Hogan also reiterated his apology for attending the golf society dinner.

“Let me be very clear: I made a mistake by going to that event. I’m embarrassed about it. When I see all the various tragedies around the country arising from COVID regulations, I know I should not have been there. I’ve apologized for that profusely.’’

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Kirka reported from London

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