EU Trade Chief Faces Growing Pressure to Explain Golf Outing

European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan faced increasing pressure from the Irish government to explain why he attended a social event during the coronavirus pandemic, raising questions about his hold on the post.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin and Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar spoke with Hogan on Saturday and “asked him to consider his position,” according to a government spokesperson. Hogan on Friday rejected calls to quit after he and about 80 others attended a function this week organized by the Irish parliament’s golf society.

While Hogan, the EU’s top trade negotiator, apologized for “any distress caused, he said he followed the government’s quarantine rules and had been assured that the event met Ireland’s pandemic guidelines. That wasn’t enough for the government leaders.

Martin and Varadkar believe “the event should never have been held, that the Commissioner’s apology came late and that he still needs to give a full account and explanations of his actions,” according to the spokesperson. Varadkar helped secure Hogan’s post while he was premier.

Police are investigating the event and opposition politicians are calling for Hogan to go. The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, has issued a statement backing him.

It’s unusual for EU commissioners to step aside. The most striking case was in 1999 when the whole European Commission under Jacques Santer resigned because of a scandal involving France’s appointee, Edith Cresson. Since then, the head of the commission chief — currently led by former German cabinet member Ursula von der Leyen — has more scope to ask individual commissioners to step down.

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