It was expected, but the appointment of Phil Hogan, Ireland’s commissioner designate to the agriculture portfolio is a significant moment for Irish farmers. The Kilkenny man takes over the commissionership with the largest budget in the EU at €60bn – 40% of the entire budget. Its influence is arguably unmatched within the comissiion cabinet.

Phil Hogan gave his first interview as commissioner to the Irish Farmers Journal, outlining the philosophy he will bring to the job, pivotal to the future of Irish and European farming, and indeed farming across the planet.

Why an Irishman?

“We have done a good job during the Presidency, with both the Taoiseach and Simon Coveney getting agreement not only on the EU budget, but also on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

“There is a feeling that a commissioner from a western democracy where the commercial family farm unit is the typical model is appropriate at this time. Food security is a huge issue, not only in the TTIP negotiations but also in the climate change negotiations that are coming up for the European Council in October. Ireland has a good track record, and my predecessor as an Irish agriculture commissioner, Ray MacSharry, is perceived as having done an excellent job and the Irish are seen as good to work with in getting a consensus within Europe.”

Food production

“Food is one of mankind’s most basic needs, and food production is one of the most important jobs one can have. I have as Environment Minister highlighted the need to balance climate change mitigation measures with the need to feed the planet. I will continue to emphasise the importance of food production in my new role. Europe has a massive responsibility to feed itself, and to produce food for those starving populations unable to meet their demand for food production. As population expands, so must food supply increase.”


“I think Minister Coveney did a great job in securing a deal among his ministerial colleagues that reflected the differences between eastern, southern and northern Europe. At the end of the day, any CAP deal is going to be a balance between these regions. The implementation phase is a matter for each member state. I don’t want to cut across any plans or proposals for implementation that Minister Coveney will have for 2015. I hope he will be able to find the necessary balance to emphasise active farmers, the commercialisation of agriculture, and that the people who are getting up early and going to bed after a hard day’s work are the ones most rewarded.”

Rural development

“The next round of Rural Development Programme (RDP) and LEADER funds in particular will emphasise job creation in rural areas. There’s been a lot of good work done in most areas over the last 30 years, but it’s not acceptable to me that 30% of funding is spent on administration. We have a local government system that has a democratic mandate, and that already has financial management systems in place ensuring there is more money available for projects.

Mid-term review

“I’d be in favour of continuing to implement the present proposals that were agreed only as recently as last June. It’s not good for market certainty or for farmers to have too many changes in quick succession. We have been bedevilled a bit by that over the last 20 years. I think now is an opportunity for some stability.”

On the Parliament

There’s always going to be tension between the Commission, the Ministerial Council and the Parliament. I will use my experience of 32 years in politics to engage with MEPs elected from right around Europe.

I’m glad that Fine Gael is part of the largest political grouping party in the EU – the EPP. The Social and Democratic grouping are also very responsible. There will always be extremes of left and right.

It’s interesting that I am getting strong support from the Ulster Unionist Party, with Jim Nicholson recognising my appointment as being good for Irish farmers, while at the same time Sinn Fein’s MEPs and others are opposing me. I’m disappointed with that, but not surprised.

Food chain equity

“I think this is a big issue. Mairead McGuinness has quite rightly highlighted it in the last Parliament and I will be anxious to engage with her and fellow MEPs to see what practical approach can be taken to ensure we have greater transparency in terms of decision making around price on a European wide basis.

“The IFA and beef industry in this country now have a forum where they can deal with these matters and it’s clear that chain is not working as it should. The concentration of processing facilities in Ireland is certainly a worry.”

On climate change

“We were shortchanged in Ireland in terms of our effort-sharing conclusions with the EU in 2008. My predecessor (John Gormley) took his eye off the ball in these matters. I have attempted to correct that over the last three years, so that when the next set of targets is agreed for 2030 the Irish position is recognised and compensated for in some way. That will come to a head at the next meeting of the European Council, and I expect that the groundwork that I have done in conjunction with Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney will be reflected in any document produced by the Commission for that meeting.

“It’s a rolling maul in terms of this type of policy issue. It’s important that targets do not unduly curb Ireland’s ability to fulfil its potential of sustainable food production.”

On trade talks

“I think that the dynamic has changed in relation to trade talks in view of the important contribution that Europe can make in food production, supplying food to starving populations around the world. You cannot have it every way – there’s a balance to be struck in allowing the places in the world best placed to grow food, including Europe in general and Ireland in particular, to be able to do so.

“Ireland has been to the forefront of delivering farm-to-fork traceability. There is a requirement on all countries to provide the consumer with information to allow an informed choice when buying any food product.”

On Russia

“I agree with Simon Coveney when he says that flexibility is required in our response to the fallout on Russia, and I think that Commissioner Ciolos has shown some signs of being flexible in responding to the market crisis that has emerged.

“It has also re-emphasised that for Ireland, we need to be gaining new markets, broadening our base and not being over-dependent on any one market for a particular product. It’s imperative that Bord Bia and the Irish Dairy Board continue to do their very important work. Political instability is present in so many regions around the world, and we have to minimise the possible effects on the price back to the farmer.”

On moving away

“I’m going to immerse myself fully in Brussels politics for the next five years. I want to ensure that the confidence shown in me by the Taoiseach and the Government is well-placed. I will still be home regularly. I don’t expect to miss too many big Kilkenny matches in the years ahead – the Commission don’t meet on Sundays very often.

“I’ve done everything I can in the last five years to reform politics. That might not be perceived in the outcomes yet. The changes are only bedding in, be they the new local authority structures or the steps I have taken to ensure there are more women candidates. And reforming the funding of politics, making sure the chequebook is no longer the guideline to getting support for your policy. I’m proud of that legacy.

“Agriculture and agri-food are water-intensive, and no one was planning for the future.

“I’m glad I was in a position to institute significant reform. I’m very proud that I was part of an Irish government that saved our country.”