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Mairead McGuinness nominated next Irish Commissioner-designate

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Today (8 September) European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that having interviewed the two candidates put forward by the Irish government for the post of Commissioner, she has decided to propose Mairead McGuinness to the European Parliament. In a surprise move, the new Irish commissioner has been offered the portfolio of financial services, financial stability, and capital markets union.

Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis will assume responsibility for the trade portfolio, and will remain the Commission's representative on the Eurogroup, in cooperation with Commissioner Gentiloni.

Mairead McGuinness has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 and currently holds the post of First Vice-President. She is widely respected, but has little known expertise in the portfolio she has been offered having served on unrelated committees in the parliament, including: agriculture and rural development; environment, public health and food safety; and the petitions committee.

The other Irish candidate, Andrew McDowell, was a former chief economic advisor to then Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He had just completed a mandate as Vice-President of the European Investment Banking. This may not just have been a question of gender balance trumping expertise, but the recognition that McGuinness is a shrewd political actor, who has also demonstrated during the Brexit discussions that she is a skilled media operator, this is not surprising given her background as a journalist.

While rumours swirled that there would be a wider shake-up of portfolios, the President appears to have settled on a more modest redistribution. Dombrovskis is a trusted and respected heavyweight in the current Commission, it is unlikely that there will be strong objections to him being given the important trade dossier. As a current MEP, McGuinness is one of their own, it is unlikely that the European Parliament will try to block her nomination.

It was widely anticipated that Ireland would lose the trade portfolio, but financial services and the Capital Markets Union are important sectors to Ireland, which hopes to become an even bigger player in this sector. Many London-based companies are already turning to Dublin as Brexit looms on the horizon. McGuinness will be in charge of directorate general what has yet to decide if the UK’s financial services in different areas will maintain “equivalence”; this is one of the unilateral powers that the European Commission will continue to exercise, whether there is, or isn’t a deal with the UK, by 1 January 2020.

Commentators have pointed to the fact that Ireland now holds three important economic posts. Paschal Donohoe, Ireland’s Finance Minister became President of the Eurogroup in July. Ireland’s former Governor of Ireland’s central bank is now Chief Economist for the European Central Bank in 2019.

Ireland was the eighth largest exporter of financial services (excluding insurance and pension services) in the world in 2017, according to UNCTAD. It has been successful in reducing its non-performing loans from 21% to 6% in 2018 over a four-year period. The sector is an important one for Ireland.

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Video round table: Debate on the proposed new Belgian 5G law

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Belgian National Security Council has proposed a new law which includes a series of additional security measures regarding the rollout of 5G mobile networks. The capability of 5G is immense and will affect every area of the economy, and every government has a duty to ensure that any deployed 5G technology is safe to use as a communication medium by its citizens and the government.

At an online roundtable debate organized today, (17 December), by EU Reporter, interested experts and commentators debated the issue.

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Ambassador's Corner

Ambassador's corner: H.E. Aigul Kuspan of Kazakhstan

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The first in a series of conversations with various countries' ambassadors to the EU.

EU Reporter's Tori Macdonald speaks with Kazakhstan's Chief Representative to Belgium, Luxembourg, the EU and NATO, Aigul Kuspan.

The discussion begins with a reflection how the relations between Kazakhstan and their partners have evolved over the course of this year. Kuspan talks about the progress and many new beginnings that have formed despite the disruptive nature of 2020. The focus then turns towards Kazakhstan and how they have been managing the COVID-19 outbreak nationally as well as their participation in the global collective effort.

Looking towards the future, Kazakh eyes are firmly fixed towards the upcoming parliamentary elections in January 2021. Kuspan sheds some light on the motives of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev regarding key areas such as political reform and climate change. Furthermore, reflecting on the current challenges faced by the country and formulating an action plan to tackle these issues.

Lastly, Kuspan addresses her Brussels' based Embassy's aims for the new year as well as highlighting their diplomatic efforts in the last few months.

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US: ‘It is no secret that in the past four years, things have been complicated’ Borrell

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In a debate (11 November) in the European Parliament on the recent US elections, The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, congratulated President-elect, Joe Biden, and Vice-President-elect, Kamala Harris, for their historic victory.

Borrell applauded the largest participation in the United States electoral history, saying that it clearly showed that American citizens were very much aware of the importance of this election.

Reboot of EU/US relations

Borrell said that the EU will now look at opportunities to advance its strategic partnership with the United States, a commitment that the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen had already made in her ‘State of the EU’ address to the European Parliament in September.

The High Representative did not hide that the EU/US relations had become more strained under the Trump administration, “It is no secret either that in the past four years, things have become complicated in our relations. I am looking forward to getting back to a frank dialogue.”

Borrell welcomed the clear commitment of President-elect Biden to restoring unity and respect for democratic norms and institutions and to working with allies based on partnership. While recognising that the EU needs to work together with the United States in many frameworks – defense frameworks and others - he said that the EU still needed to reinforce its strategic autonomy to become a stronger partner.

“I do not have to explain that we have had a very significant bilateral relationship globally [with the United States],” said Borrell, adding “We have a common history, shared values and we adhere to democratic principles. This partnership reflects how we go across all economic fields, underpinned by wide cooperation.”

The High Representative outlined a long list of common strategic goals: to reenergize the cooperation in the multilateral fora, in particular in the United Nations; to continue working in promoting the full respect of human rights; to address the difficulties in the World Trade Organization, especially the dispute settlement mechanism; to cooperate in fighting the COVID-19, including strengthening the working of the World Health Organization and the capacity of the global health system, starting with preparedness and response to emergencies; to accelerate ambitious global climate action and to invest in harnessing the technological transformation; to look at China, Iran and our Neighbourhood.

He added a note of caution that he was ready to engage with the new actors, but added that there was quite a long transition ahead, “let us hope it is not going to be a bumping transition.”

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