An influential committee in the British Parliament has requested permission to ‘vet’ the candidate set to replace Britain's permanent representative to the European Union in Brussels.
A potential British exit from the European Union came to the top of the political agenda after Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain must use the upheaval created by the eurozone crisis to forge a new relationship with the European Union.
In January, Cameron promised to offer Britons a simple ‘in/out’ referendum choice on whether to stay in the European Union if he wins the next election, scheduled for 2015.
Britain has negotiated a number of opt-outs from key EU policy areas since its accession in 1973. The country is not part of the eurozone and has not signed the free-border Schengen Treaty and does not want to abide by a number of EU police and judicial cooperation rules.
Sir Jon Cunliffe, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, is leaving Brussels to join the Bank of England as deputy governor. Ivan Rogers, who is currently working as Prime Minister David Cameron’s adviser on Europe and global issues, is expected to be named in the coming weeks as Cunliffe’s replacement.
Rogers will be taking over at a delicate time in the UK's relations with the EU, with Cameron seeking to repatriate powers from Brussels to London, and his party pledging an in/out referendum on EU membership in 2017.
MP Bill Cash, the chairman of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, has written to Cameron requesting that his committee question Rogers in advance of his appointment.
Although pre-appointment hearings are a familiar feature of the American political system, they are only beginning to gain ground in the UK.
Committee can summon witnesses if necessary
Bill Cash told EurActiv that the UK parliament’s liaison committee – another influential body which consists of the chairmen of all the other committees – has also made a strong case for the pre-appointment hearing.
Cash said that since the post of permanent representative involves legislative decision-making that comes under the remit of his committee, “it is an issue of accountability to Parliament”.
The committee has suggested that the hearing could take place in early September, Cash said, adding that he had asked Cameron to explain his reasoning if he refused the request.
Cash – a leading conservative eurosceptic – refused to be drawn on what actions the committee may take if its request is turned down, but his committee has the right to summon witnesses to appear before it if necessary.
Any questioning of Rogers is likely to focus on his policy background. He is credited with strengthening the UK’s relations with Germany in recent months, a relationship critical if Cameron is to succeed in his aim of repatriating significant powers from Brussels.
His political background may cause some concern to the Conservative party’s eurosceptic wing. In the 1990s he worked as chief of staff to the vice-president of the European Commission, Lord Leon Brittan, and he previously worked as a political private secretary to Kenneth Clarke, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Both Brittan and Clarke are seen as figurehead pro-Europeans within the Conservative party.
- 2 Sept: UK Parliament resumes work