Phil Hogan’s resignation from the EU’s trade portfolio leaves Ursula von der Leyen in an invidious position as the European Commission president seeks to fill one of the most powerful and diplomatically sensitive posts in Brussels at a time of global economic turmoil.
Mr Hogan was seen as one of the strongest performers in Ms von der Leyen’s “college” of commissioners. But his resignation on Wednesday over potential violations of coronavirus restrictions in his home country of Ireland means that the commission faces a forced change in its top team at a delicate moment.
His departure comes as the commission attempts to broker a compromise in its fractious relationship with the US over state support for aerospace giants Airbus and Boeing, while also navigating febrile relations with China, the upheaval within the World Trade Organization and the Brexit trade talks.
“Hogan is a loss for Ursula von der Leyen,” said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Centre in Brussels. “She needs to have a heavyweight trade commissioner, not only for Brexit but also looking ahead for a potential opening with the US if Biden is elected.”
Mr Zuleeg stressed that the commission still had a team of strong senior civil servants, led by trade director-general Sabine…