New EU trade commissioner named – but will he have any influence on the UK-EU trade relationship?

Tue 8 Sept 2020
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

european commission

Former Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis is to become the EU’s new trade commissioner, President Ursula von der Leyen has announced today (8 September).

Dombrovskis has served as acting trade commissioner since the resignation of Ireland’s Phil Hogan last month and is currently the commission’s Executive Vice-President.

Hogan resigned from the position after it emerged he had breached quarantine rules in Ireland by attending a golf dinner in County Galway. He had only recently arrived back home from Brussels.

Where Dombrovskis stands on Brexit

In a previous role overseeing financial services in the bloc, Dombrovskis had influence on the negotiations for the future access of UK banks and investment firms to Europe.

He has previously said the bloc would be willing to grant the UK ‘equivalence’, meaning it would have financial access to the continent post-transition provided relevant regulations continued to align.

However, he warned that the commission would be vigilant in checking British rules and standards if it granted equivalence and would act decisively to end it in the event of divergence.

The current negotiations around financial access hit a standstill earlier in the summer after both sides missed a 30 June deadline to complete assessments of each other’s regulatory systems.

Progress has since been made, Dombrovskis told the FT last month, after the UK submitted its findings.

What does the trade commissioner do?

According to the Irish Times, the trade commissioner is “not directly involved [in Brexit], though will have a role in policing and managing any deal in the years ahead, including the special elements relating to Northern Ireland.”

Though the role includes oversight of the bloc’s trade policy and negotiations with third party countries or regions, the negotiations for the future EU-UK relationship continue to be handled by Michel Barnier.

According to Reuters, the main items on Dombrovskis’ initial in-tray will be resolving the long running trade dispute with the US over aviation subsidies and coalescing EU support around a single candidate for the director general position at the WTO.

Who is Dombrovskis?

Dombrovskis rose to prominence in Latvia as an economist and finance minister before becoming its prime minister in 2009.

He has represented the centre-right New Era and Unity parties in Latvia and the European People’s Party in Europe – which President von der Leyen also leads.

Previous roles

  • European Commission Executive Vice-President responsible for an Economy that Works for People – 2019-20
  • European Commission Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue – 2014-19
    • Additional responsibility for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union from 2016
  • Prime Minister of Latvia – 2009-2014