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20th Jan 2019

King to become UK's last EU commissioner

  • Sir King: "I have always been proud to be British and proud to be European" (Photo: European Parliament)

Sir Julian King, the likely last EU commissioner from the UK, refused to be drawn into speculation on Brexit while quizzed on Monday (12 September) by MEPs in a three-hour hearing on his security portfolio.

King, the UK’s outgoing ambassador to France, began his speech to the EP civil liberties committee in French, in a gesture to dispel suspicion he would represent UK interests only.

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“Personally, I have always been proud to be British and proud to be European and see no contradiction between the two,” he told deputies, in what was a half empty room. He pledged to serve “the European general interest, and only the general interest.”

EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker carved out a new portfolio for King on “security union” in a surprise move, given that the UK has opt-outs from home and justice affairs policies that are the foundation of EU security cooperation.

The 52-year old King was nominated in July, after the previous UK commissioner, Jonathan Hill responsible for financial services, resigned in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

“Neither terrorism, nor organised crime respects national borders. Indeed their business models thrive on the lack of coordination between states,” King told MEPs.

“Security of one member state is security of all,” he said.

Brexit: ‘No comment’

A life-long British civil servant, King did not want to discuss Brexit with the MEPs. “I’m here before you to discuss the role that I am to fulfil,” he said, while adding that he had strongly supported the Remain side in the referendum.

Asked by UK Independence Party deputy Gerard Batten which "master” King would serve if EU and UK interests collide, and how long he will hold the job, but King declined to speak further on Brexit.

“I don’t think you should read anything into my nomination in the wider issue of Brexit,” he said.

He refused to speculate how long the negotiations will last, and therefore how long he would stay in Brussels.

“I’m not going to give a running commentary on a negotiation process that hasn’t even started yet,” King said.

He vowed to abide by his Commission oath he will remain independent and not take orders from any government or organisation, but commissioners often serve as the eyes and ears of their capitals government, as well as go-betweens.

“London will be still two-hours train from Brussels and two-hours from Paris, jihadi terrorists don’t make a difference of whether we are EU member or not, we do have a shared responsibility to tackle the task,” King said.

Cracking down

He presented an eight-point plan for combatting terrorism that included fighting radicalisation by stepping up help for civil society, better information sharing between member states, and strengthened security at external borders.

He spoke of prior security checks for third country nationals travelling to the EU and said Europe should reinforce critical infrastructure.

He also wants to work with internet service providers to crack down on hate-speech and jihadi propaganda.

He said the commission would come out with a proposal to cut terrorist financing in the next months.

King added that existing instruments, such as sharing of airline passenger details, which remains controversial, should be used to the fullest.

Pressed by MEPs critical of the EU airline data (PNR) agreement, King said he would react to an upcoming verdict by the European Court of Justice on a PNR deal with Canada, but not to opinions of the court’s advocates general.

"He gave an intelligent, well-prepared and sophisticated performance," Claude Moraes, British Labour MEP and chairman of the EP committee, told journalists after the hearing.

The committee is to discuss King's nomination on Tuesday morning, but few antagonistic questions on Monday he appeared likely to go through. If he is also cleared by plenary on Thursday, he can take up his post once the Council approves his appointment.

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