UK’s King could be a Commissioner ‘without portfolio’

Sir Julian King warned of the 'growing menace' of right-wing extremism in the EU. [British Embassy Paris/YouTube]

The British Ambassador to France, Sir Julian King, will take over as the UK’s European Commissioner after the resignation of Jonathan Hill. It is not yet known which, if any, portfolio the diplomat will be given. EURACTIV France reports.

In the days after the resignation of the European Commissioner for Financial Services, in the wake of the Brexit referendum, British Prime Minister David Cameron put forward the name of the UK’s representative in Paris as a possible replacement.

“As long as the United Kingdom has not triggered Article 50, it remains a full member of the European Union. Logically it is entitled to have a British Commissioner, a procedure that is under way,” a Commission spokesperson said at a press conference on Monday (11 July).

After the UK referendum and the resignation of Lord Hill, the EU treaties bound Cameron to propose a replacement. “Cameron kept his head down by proposing a quality candidate, but a diplomat rather than a politician,” said French Republican MEP Alain Lamassoure.

The nomination of a convinced Europhile, married to a Danish civil servant in charge of human resources at the European Commission, is also an attempt by the UK not to burn its bridges with Brussels.

Sir Julian King: 'We now support the evolution of the eurozone, without trying to hold it back'

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

Mystery portfolio

The candidate from London met with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Monday (11 July), but neither would reveal details of the UK Commissioner’s possible future portfolio.

And the mystery may continue for some time yet, as a spokesperson for President Juncker said the Luxembourger would make his decision “by the end of the month”. The European Parliament and Council will then be asked to approve the appointment before the end of “summer 2016”.

But time is running out. With the summer holidays beginning soon, the only opportunities MEPs will have to approve King’s appointment within this timeframe will be at the mini plenary session on 29 August or the full plenary beginning in Strasbourg on 12 September.

And the tight timetable for this nomination is not the only reason it is sensitive. The Commission will have to juggle a number of constraints to find the ambassador an appropriate portfolio. For MEPs, this is a highly controversial topic.

Scotland seeks ‘immediate discussions’ to stay in EU

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vowed yesterday (26 June) to protect Scotland against the “devastating” fallout of Brexit, as new polls found over half of Scots now want independence, which she may put to a second referendum.

On 28 June, less than a week after the referendum, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in which it “took note of the UK Commissioner’s resignation and the reallocation of his portfolio”. Among the amendments proposed but finally rejected was a call for the Commission “not to attribute a portfolio to the new Commissioner”.

For the time being, the executive has brushed this suggestion aside.  “I am tempted to exclude this as a possibility,” a Commission spokesperson said on Monday.

Another red line has emerged concerning the Brexit negotiations. “He can only be given a portfolio that is in no way connected to Brexit,” said Lamassoure.

“The new Commissioner will not deal with Brexit, just like Moscovici is not dealing with the French budget deficit,” a British source joked. In fact, as the subject of Brexit will probably monopolise future meetings of the College of Commissioners, Julian King is likely to find himself at the very heart of the debate.

Some sources have raised the possibility of creating a new position dealing with linguistic questions. Members of past Commissions have dealt with this topic.

British sources are certain that their new commissioner will have a portfolio, come what may, but are happy to let Juncker decide what it should be in his own time. Across the Channel, the subject is clearly not a priority, amidst all the other political turmoil.

Dombrovskis and Moscovici take on extra responsibilities

Hill’s former responsibilities have in the meantime been transferred to Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis.

The Latvian inherited responsibility for his former colleague’s entire portfolio. This new allocation of responsibilities was approved by the European Parliament on 6 July.

Now in charge of the euro, social dialogue and financial services, the busy vice-president has abdicated exclusive responsibility for some of his competences to Pierre Moscovici, the French Commissioner for Economic Affairs, according to a letter seen by EURACTIV.

Moscovici will now take over as the external representative of the euro at meetings of the IMF and the G7, as well as taking charge of the implementation of the Greek stability programme.

Highly engaged in matters of taxation and the fight against tax evasion in recent months, the former French finance minister will also take over responsibility for tax and the customs union.

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