There have been many news articles over the last few weeks on the possibility of Phil Hogan being nominated by Ireland as a candidate for the Director-General position at the World Trade Organization (“WTO”). See, e.g., Politico, May 30, 2020, European trade chief mulls bid for WTO top job, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/30/phil-hogan-wto-european-union-290660. The WTO is in the middle of the period for receiving nominations, a period which began on June 8 and will end on July 8. To date five candidates have been put forward from Mexico (Jesus Seade Kuri), Nigeria (Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala), Egypt (Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh), Moldova (Tudor Ulianovschi) and the Republic of Korea (Yoo Myung-hee).
Commissioner Hogan has indicated he has been thinking about the possibility. See, e.g., Irish Times, June 9, 2020, Phil Hogan confirms he is weighing bid to become WTO chief, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/phil-hogan-confirms-he-is-weighing-bid-to-become-wto-chief-1.4274865. There have been articles about the European Union seeking a candidate all EU countries would support and certain ethical limitations on a sitting Commissioner seeking another position. See, e.g., Reuters, June 9, 2020, EU weights single bid for WTO job, trade chief Hogan confirms interest, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-eu-trade/eu-weighs-single-bid-for-wto-job-trade-chief-hogan-confirms-interest-idUSKBN23G1RE; Financial Times, June 16, 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/c45a56ab-5b2d-4a8c-af83-6aedec645bff.
A Bloomberg report on June 23 indicated that Ireland would be submitting his nomination and that Commissioner Hogan would announce his candidacy on Thursday (today), though delays for unspecified reasons have apparently occurred. Bloomberg, June 23, 2020, Ireland to nominate EU Trade Chief Hogan for Top WTO post, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-23/ireland-to-nominate-eu-trade-chief-hogan-for-top-wto-post. As of 5 p.m. Geneva time, no nomination has been received and there are no updates on Commissioner Hogan making an announcement.
The EU webpage for Commissioner Hogan provides the following shorthand biography of positions held over the last thirty-three years:
- European Commissioner for Trade2019 – present
- European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development2014-2019
- Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Ireland2011-2014
- President of the Council of EU Environment Ministers2013
- Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Ireland1994-1995
- Member of Dáil Éireann (Lower House of Parliament)1989
- Member of Seanad Éreann (Upper House of Parliament)1987-89
If Commissioner Hogan is nominated in the coming days, he will be the first candidate from a country that is a “developed” country Member of the WTO. To the extent WTO Members look at having the Director-General from a developed country versus a developing country following DG Azevedo’s departure on the thought that there should be rotation between developed-developing country leadership, then Commissioner Hogan would be the first (and to date, only) developed country candidate. The candidate from the Republic of Korea may view herself as from a developed country, though Korea has self-declared itself a developing country at the WTO though has agreed not to seek special and differential treatment in future agreements.
Other possible positives for Members will be his experience in trade (first agriculture and now trade overall), his political and his technical competence, his support of the WTO overall, his support for reform at the WTO.
Challenges for Commissioner Hogan’s candidacy may include the number of European Directors-General there have been at the WTO (and at the GATT before then) suggesting those wanting geographical diversity of leaders may be less interested in another European. Commissioner Hogan will also have potential challenges based on positions he has taken on behalf of the European Union on important issues before the WTO (e.g., United States on dispute settlement and whether convergence or coexistence is a key need for WTO Members). Candidates are obviously expected if selected to be the next Director-General to be honest brokers and facilitators and not to be representing the views of the Member who nominated them. But in an environment in which there are fundamental differences in views of existing rights and obligations and the needs of the WTO, it is possible that Commissioner Hogan will have a special challenge in demonstrating his neutrality and openness to all issues and views.
With thirteen days left in the WTO DG nomination process, there are five candidates who have been put forward. It is likely that several more will be put forward before the close of the process on July 8. It appears that the European Commissioner Phil Hogan will be nominated in the coming days by Ireland which would expand the field of candidates to six. It is unclear if the delay in the announcement of his nomination that was apparently originally scheduled for today, June 25, flows from internal EU or Irish logistics, from a lack of consensus within the EU member countries to support Commissioner Hogan or reflects some other issue that simply delays the timing and not the likelihood of his nomination.