Great Britain’s new Commissioner will likely head up the European Union’s anti-terror strategy, after Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today (2 August) put forward Sir Julian King for the role.
The appointment of King, 51, as Commissioner for Security Union must still be approved by the European Parliament after he is formally suggested for the job by national governments in the Council of the EU.
Even though Juncker consulted Parliament leaders before making his choice, King can expect a bumpy ride from MEPs at his autumn hearing after the UK’s 23 June referendum vote to leave the European Union.
The Security Union strategy was published in April this year after the Islamic State-inspired terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, that killed hundreds of people.
It calls for greater intelligence sharing and cooperation between EU countries to prevent similar tragedies in the future, as well as measures to address the threat posed by radicalisation and by foreign fighters returning from Syria.
Oxford-educated King, the former UK ambassador to France and Ireland, replaces Jonathan Hill as the British Commissioner. Hill resigned as Financial Services Commissioner after the Brexit vote.
The Security Union portfolio is a newly-created post. King must push for a common European approach to anti-terror action, as outlined in the strategy, despite the UK decision to leave the EU.
Juncker last week appointed his senior security advisor Michel Barnier to head up the Commission’s Brexit negotiation team. Hill’s influential role in charge of Capital Markets Union went to Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis.
Media reports had suggested Juncker was considering asking other Commissioners to sacrifice parts of their portfolio for King, who studied at the École nationale d’administration in Paris where he met his future wife.
There was also speculation that the UK would be punished for Brexit with a peripheral role, or even be given a Commissioner without portfolio.
A UK government spokesperson said, “We welcome this decision by the President of the European Commission.
“Security is a vital issue for all member states and co-operation across the EU can help to better protect us all from the range of threats we face.”
Britain is still entitled to a European Commissioner because it remains a full member state “with all rights and obligations”, until it leaves the bloc through the legal process triggered by invoking Article 50 of the EU treaty.
The Article 50 process can last up to two years. New UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said it could be triggered in the new year, once Britain is ready. Once Britain leaves, King’s mandate will expire.
Juncker yesterday telephoned May about the appointment and has already met King. King worked at the European Commission in 2008 and 2009 where he was chief of staff to Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and later to foreign affairs supremo Catherine Ashton, both British Commissioners.
Juncker has sent a letter to King – who will work “under the guidance” of Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans – outlining his mission.
“You will, in particular, contribute to projects steered and coordinated by the First Vice-President,” Juncker wrote to King. “For initiatives requiring a decision from the Commission, you will, as a rule, liaise closely with the First Vice-President.”
Timmermans, who is Dutch, is Juncker’s right-hand man and in charge of “better regulation, interinstitutional relations, the rule of law and the charter of fundamental rights”. He had a pivotal role in the striking of the EU’s deal with Turkey on migration.
“The European Union is in one of the most testing periods in its history,” Juncker wrote. “We have to cope with the refugee crisis, with the aftermath of the UK referendum and with the increased threat of terrorism.”
Juncker added that all his Commissioners must work “in full independence and without seeking or taking instructions from any government or other institution, body, office or entity and with only the promotion of the general interest of the Union in mind”.
As well as Timmermans, King will also work with Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. He will have a task force of officials from the Commission departments for home affairs, transport, energy, communications and technology.
King has held British government posts in Brussels, New York, Paris, Luxembourg, The Hague and Lisbon.
Juncker’s decision comes after what was described yesterday by the European Commission as a “period of meditation” by the president. He had set a deadline of the end of July for his decision.
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament, said, "I would seriously question whether the nomination of the UK-commissioner for the Security Union is the right choice. The UK will soon start the process of leaving the European Union but, more importantly, the country has a long-standing opt-out from Justice and Home Affairs measures, the crucial policy area if one is serious about building a European anti-terrorism capacity. It would be odd to give such an important portfolio to someone who has no incentive to further the European interest in general or more specifically, to enhance the EU's security capabilities."
- Autumn 2016: Expected time of KIng's European Parliament hearing.
- Press release & King's CV. President Juncker consults the European Parliament on Sir Julian King as Commissioner for the Security Union