Jonathan Hill was confirmed by MEPs as EU Commissioner on Wednesday, a boost for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is today (9 October) facing defeat by the UK Independence Party in a high-profile by-election.
Hill was comfortably backed by the European Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee to take on the Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union portfolio.
That success will be welcomed by Cameron, who is under increasing pressure to show he can deal with Brussels and negotiate reforms, ahead of next year’s general election. Cameron has promised an in/out referendum, on the UK’s membership of the EU, if his Conservative party win the poll.
But there are growing Tory fears, after the Eurosceptic party’s triumph in May’s European elections, that UKIP will poach traditional Conservative voters in the national vote.
Today’s high profile by election, held on Cameron’s birthday, will be scrutinised for signs that UKIP are able to split the Tory vote, and will up the pressure on Cameron to further toughen his stance on the EU.
Conservative MP Douglas Carswell defected to UKIP before standing down in August as MP for Clacton in Essex, England. He is expected to be convincingly returned as a UKIP MP, in today’s vote, which was sparked by his resignation.
He will be UKIP’s first MP elected to Westminster, a significant coup just seven months before the national elections. The results are expected tomorrow morning.
Polls predict Carswell, who said he joined the Eurosceptic party because he didn’t believe Cameron was serious about EU reform, will beat his Tory rival by about 6,000 votes.
UKIP will also fight a second by election today, caused by the death of a local MP, in Heywood and Middleton. Labour is predicted to keep the seat.
But an unexpected UKIP victory will only give Nigel Farage’s party increased momentum as it heads towards a third by election in November.
That vote in Rochester was caused by the defection of Conservative MP Mark Reckless to UKIP. Reckless does not have the same personal levels of support as Carswell and the Conservatives have already vowed to “throw everything” at the campaign to win the seat.
Hill safe after all
Had Hill not been backed by MEPs last night, Cameron would have faced serious questions.
Hill was the only Commissioner called back to a second hearing with MEPs and faced questions over his commitment to the EU and whether he would use the position to work in favour of the City of London.
MEPs were also concerned that a member of a non-eurozone country would have responsibility for the EU’s Banking Union. There was speculation that they would ask for Banking Union to be carved out from Hill’s job description, but that proved unfounded.
EU-UK relations are particularly strained at the moment after Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat in his campaign to block Jean–Claude Juncker from being appointed Commission President.
After predicting the UK would vote to stay in the EU in a “Brexit” referendum, MEPs backed Hill by 45 votes to 13.
He will work under the coordination of Vice-Presidents Jyrki Katainen and Valdis Dombrovskis, who were also backed by MEPs. Katainen will have responsibility for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and Dombrovskis will take charge of the Euro and Social Dialogue.
France’s Pierre Moscovici was also confirmed as Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, completing the finance and economics team in President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker’s new Commission.
Ultimately MEPs will vote to approve or reject the whole Commission. But the situation was complicated by Alenka Bratušek, the Slovenian candidate, being voted down by MEPs last night.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, announced the distribution of portfolios among his new team on 10 September.
Among the new Commissioners, due to take up their posts on 1 November, are 18 former (prime) ministers. The President has announced that the new Commission will be "very political".
The new Commission must now be approved by the European Parliament, who will interview the commissioners between 29 September and 7 October.
During these two weeks of hearings, the 27 Commissioners will be interviewed by MEPs from relevant parliamentary commissions.
Parliament can then accept or reject the whole team.
Particularly relevant to Jonathan Hill, the UK's choice for Commissioner, is the strained relations between his country and the EU.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron waged a campaign to block EU veteran uncker from becoming the next President of the European Commission.
Juncker was seen as the legitimate candidate for the post because he campaigned during the European elections as the leading figure of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which won the largest number of seats in Parliament.
But Cameron refused to support this because Juncker's candidacy did not appear on the ballot papers at the May election.
He insisted that EU heads of states and government took a vote on the matter during an EU summit on 27 June, even though he does not have a blocking minority.
Cameron has promised Britons an in/out referendum on Britain's EU membership if he is re-elected in 2015.
UKIP was the most successful British party in the European elections. The Eurosceptic party is now looking to build on that success, adding to the pressure on Cameron.
- 10 October: By election results
- November: Rochester by election,.
- November: Juncker Commission scheduled to take over
- May 2015: UK general election
- 2017: Possible date of Brexit referendum
- EurActiv.com: Hill predicts UK will say 'no' to Brexit
- EurActiv.com: Hill tells MEPs he wants capital markets union by 2019
- EurActiv.com: Hill survives attack by UKIP’s ‘Big Bad Woolfe’