Ireland’s Phil Hogan is by now a member of the European Union’s commission with undoubted gravitas and experience. He was given the agriculture and rural development brief in 2014, and in Mrs von der Leyen’s new line-up last year he was promoted to trade commissioner.
But after only six months in this senior role, he is said to be “exploring” the possibility of a move from Brussels to Geneva where later this year the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will be looking for a new director-general, the current incumbent having decided to quit the post a year early. He fuelled speculation about his intention when last week he told the EU Parliament that a European getting the WTO job would be “wonderful”.
Other Europeans reported to be interested in the Geneva vacancy are Spain’s foreign minister Arancha González, the Dutch trade minister, and the UK’s Peter Mandelson, a minister in Tony Blair’s UK government and one of Hogan’s predecessors in the EU trade job.
Given that both organisations are wrestling not only with unprecedented slumps in global trade but also internal and international tensions over protectionism and deteriorating relations with China, it’s reasonable to ask why Mr Hogan would find a jump from the frying pan into the fire so enticing.
Top jobs at global organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organisation and the WTO have by convention been awarded on grounds that often have more to do with geo-political factors than the talents of the candidates. What would be “wonderful”, we would suggest, is not a European as the WTO’s chief in Geneva, but the best woman or man for the job.