Politico: Hololei was one of the EU's major 'faceless movers and shakers'
The rise and, if not fall, at least lateral movement of Henrik Hololei is the subject once again of a piece on Politico's website, following his announcement earlier this week that he would be standing down as EU's Directorate-General (DG) for Mobility and Transport.
While the job title may seem uninspiring, Hololei has enjoyed a glittering EU career which dates back prior to Estonia even joining the union – he worked in the office tasked with integration, from the mid-1990s onwards, while Estonia became a full EU member in 2004.
Hololei has also, Politico says, been described as "the most powerful Estonian operating in Brussels."
Ironically, however, it was a scandal related to aviation which ultimately ended his career as DG, something which would have left many aviation insiders "gutted" a source told Politico.
"Since October 2015, Hololei has sat at the head of the EU's transport lawmaking apparatus. He was, simultaneously, a Brussels schmoozer — regularly found at receptions and after-work events — and one of the EU's faceless international movers and shakers, meeting ministers and CEOs around the world," Politico writes.
At the same time, "in a job effectively created to make sure that rules and funding are in place to keep the EU's trains, boats and planes running, aviation always stood out as Hololei's passion," the article continues, citing one airline industry official speaking a summit of aviation executives, who said: "Henrik was good to us, he was a friend to us," said on the sidelines of Wednesday's summit."
This praise even stretched as far as no less a man than Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary, normally critical of the EU over some of its aviation policy, including allowing domestic governments to rescue ailing carriers, and who told Politico that: "To be fair to them, the Commission — most notably Henrik Hololei — were terrific."
O'Leary was speaking in the context of the 2021 Belarusian-ordered hijacking and forced landing in Minsk of a Ryanair plane bound for Vilnius and which was carrying a Belarusian dissident.
More broadly, this friendliness to the aviation sector has to be set against that method of travel coming under increasing pressure with regard to its carbon footprint and impact on the environment generally – in comparison with the cleaner, greener mode of travel which high-speed rail links such as the under-construction Rail Baltica are meant to provide.
In fact, Politico reports that Hololei's standing after nearly three decades working in EU politics, was such that he had been tipped as a possible next European Commissioner.
The timing of the Qatar-funded free flights and accommodation was about as bad as it could have been, Politico notes, in the wake of the ongoing corruption case which engulfed Eva Kaili and others, and which coincided with criticisms of that Gulf State's human rights record, at a time when it was hosting the FIFA World Cup finals.
Some critics had also said that Hololei also did not do enough in the case of his compatriot, Margus Rahuoja, a former Estonian transport official who was in 2019 sentenced to jail for rape, yet who continued to receive benefits which pertained to his former post, Politico says.
On the plus side, Hololei had taken a strong line on Russia, once telling a small gathering – including Politico personnel – that that country "ruins everything."
The original, entire Politico piece is here.
Hololei said Wednesday that he had resigned for the sake of his department and its work, which he said had suffered as a result of the episode; from April 1, his 53rd birthday in fact, he will start work as a political advisor at the European Commission's department for international partnerships.
Between 2015-2021 he had made several flights connected with the Open Skies program, which had been paid for by the Qatari government or related parties, prompting claims of a conflict of interest.
Hololei himself was responsible, within Commission rules, for adjudging for himself whether accepting the flights and accommodation constituted a conflict of interest or not, but the European Commission is altering its rules, as a result of the case.
Hololei is also a member of the Parempoolsed party, founded last autumn, and he also encouraged the party's leader, former Prosecutor General Lavly Perling, to pursue a career in politics. He did not run for the party at the March 5 Riigikogu election, however, while the free flights controversy first became public just a day after that election.
Hololei, rather unusually for someone of that high of a profile, also lacks a Wikipedia page in English.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte