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The bloc's top trade commissioner is stepping down from his post after sparking outrage for appearing to breach COVID-19 restrictions while attending a dinner in Ireland with over 80 diners.
EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan resigned from his post on Wednesday night, following mounting pressure to step down over allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions.
Speaking with Irish broadcaster RTE, Hogan again said that he "broke no law" during his trip to Ireland but that he could have "adhered better to the guidelines."
"This was a distraction of course for many people at a time when they're trying to grapple with the seriousness of this pandemic," Hogan told RTE. "I felt that the fact that I made these mistakes — not withstanding that I did not break the law — was a sufficient distraction from the job that I was doing and from the Commission."
He sparked outrage after attending a golf society dinner in his native Ireland last week that breached social distancing rules.
Over 80 diners attended the dinner on August 19 — including an Irish minister, a supreme court judge and numerous lawmakers — one day after the government announced new restrictions on such events.
The dinner, dubbed by some as "Golfgate," already sparked numerous resignations in Irish politics including Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary.
Hogan did not initially apologize for his attendance, while details about his movements through Ireland have only slowly trickled out — including a journey through a county in lockdown.
He later apologized "fully and unreservedly" for his actions.
It was not immediately clear who will replace Hogan as the EU's top trade chief.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had asked Hogan to provide an explanation of his travel infractions and was assessing his response when he offered to resign.
"I respect his decision," Von der Leyen said. "I am very grateful to him for his tireless work as a Trade Commissioner since the start of this mandate."
Hogan had lost the support of the Irish government after Prime Minister Micheal Martin and his deputy Leo Varadkar on Tuesday said there were clear breaches of COVID-19 public health guidelines during this trip.
Martin and Varadkar said on Wednesday they believed Hogan's resignation was "the correct course of action given the circumstances of the past week."
"We all have a responsibility to support and adhere to public health guidelines and regulations," they said, adding that a replacement will be appointed "in due course."
rs/msh (Reuters, dpa)