UK nominates obscure Lord for EU commission
By Benjamin Fox
British PM David Cameron has made Lord Jonathan Hill his surprise nomination to be the UK's next EU commissioner.
The nomination of Hill, a relative unknown in domestic politics, is part of the UK leader's most significant reshuffle of his cabinet since taking office in 2010, as he prepares his team for next year's general election.
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One of the more junior members of the cabinet, Hill has been leader of the House of Lords since 2013, after spending three years as a junior education minister.
If the move is a surprise to pundits, who had expected a big-hitter to secure the EU job, it will also come as a surprise to the nominee himself who had previously suggested that he would turn down the post if offered it.
In an interview last month with the ConservativeHome website, Hill said that he would reply “non, non, non” if offered the job by Cameron.
However, in a statement on Tuesday (15 July), Hill said that he was “excited” to accept the nomination.
“When the next European elections take place, I want to be able to say to people across Europe – including Britain – that the European Commission has heeded their concerns and changed the EU for the better.”
Despite his lack of experience in office, Hill has a reputation as a backroom fixer. He served as an advisor first for Tory veteran Ken Clarke, and then for prime minister John Major between 1991 and 1994, during which time the Maastricht treaty, which secured Britain’s opt-out from the social chapter and the euro, was ratified.
He then set up his own lobbying company – Quiller Consultants – in London.
Hill is likely to become an important figure as Cameron attempts to re-draw the UK’s EU membership terms ahead of a possible referendum in 2017.
But his relative inexperience and lack of profile reduces the chances that he will be given one of the top economic portfolios in the EU executive under Jean-Claude Juncker.
Hill will replace EU foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton, the UK's current top EU official, becoming the second commissioner in a row to come from the House of Lords, and meaning that Cameron can avoid holding a by-election.
In his ConservativeHome interview, Hill commented that this was the main argument in favour of appointing him.
“I assume ... that the reason I ever got put publicly in the frame for it is the assumption that people want to find an MP, and then they think, oh gosh, there’s a problem with a by-election,” he said.
So far only a handful of governments have confirmed who their nominees will be for the first Juncker Commission.
Current commissioners Maros Sefcovic (Slovakia) and Johannes Hahn (Austria) have been re-nominated, while Estonian MEP Andrus Ansip, Latvian MEP Vladis Dombrovskis, Maltese politician Karmenu Vella, and Irish environment minister Phil Hogan are the others to be confirmed as nominees.
The hearings in the European Parliament will take place in September before MEPs vote on the new European Commission.