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09/12/2016

Cameron faces uphill battle to place new EU Commissioner

UK & Europe

Cameron faces uphill battle to place new EU Commissioner

Julian King [Twitter]

Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested naming Britain’s Ambassador to France, Julian King, as its new member on the European Commission, EU sources said yesterday (5 July), but faces resistance from EU lawmakers.

The present British Commissioner, Jonathan Hill, steps down on 15 July after resigning following the 23 June referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU. Cameron, who will also step down once his Conservative Party elects a new leader in September, said last week he aimed to fill Hill’s seat as soon as possible.

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King, who in 2008-09 was chief-of-staff at the Commission to the then-EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, may not be Cameron’s only option.

But in a sign of souring relations, several sources in the EU legislature said lawmakers could block any appointment as long as Britain failed to bind itself into the tight, two-year EU exit process by refusing to give formal notice it is leaving.

“We can play the same cheating game as Cameron,” an aide to one senior figure in the European Parliament told Reuters.

British officials declined comment on King, referring only to Cameron’s remark last week on naming a new commissioner. King could not immediately be contacted. The Commission, the EU executive, has said Britain is entitled to name a new commissioner for as long as it remains an EU member.

However, growing irritation in Europe with Cameron’s refusal to commence divorce proceedings by triggering Article 50 of the EU treaty, means the European Parliament is in no rush to give its necessary approval, either to a new British commissioner or to whatever portfolio that person may hold until Britain leaves.

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The man tipped to become Britain’s next EU Commissioner in Brussels, replacing Johnathan Hill, spoke to EurActiv.fr in an exclusive interview before the UK’s referendum on EU membership. This is a translated version of the interview, originally given in French.

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“Since Britain is not exactly doing its bit on Article 50, I wouldn’t expect anything to happen soon,” another parliamentary source said, noting the legislature breaks for summer next week.

In or out?

Cameron has said he will leave the decision on Article 50 to his successor. Several frontrunners, well aware that doing so will mean Britain could be bounced out of the bloc without any deal two years later, say they see no hurry to trigger it.

Cameron raised King’s name with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who had sounded out the parliamentary speaker, Martin Schulz, late on Monday, several EU sources said. Schulz in turn has taken soundings among the major party leaders.

Some have raised questions on whether Britain should have a new Commissioner, given that it is leaving the EU and will be negotiating, in part with the Commission, on its divorce terms.

EU treaties stipulate that when a commissioner resigns they should be replaced by a member from the same member state. And the Commission and the Council has said that London retains all its rights and obligations in the EU until it leaves. But the British withdrawal is unprecedented.

If a Briton were appointed, joining the 27 commissioners from the other member states, it is unclear what job they would have in what is effectively the EU government. Hill’s financial services portfolio, a huge prize for Cameron when Hill was named in 2014, has gone to the commissioner for the euro as euro zone states start to take advantage of London’s exclusion.

EU sources have said a handful of possibilities have been mentioned for a British commissioner, including multilingualism, space, audit or African relations. One parliamentary source said Cameron had sought a role in climate policy.

There has also been speculation that a new British member of the Commission would have no policy portfolio and would be restricted to handling matters relating to the Brexit process.