UK’s EU Commission choice to face MEPs before Thursday vote

British ambassador to Ireland during queen’s visit expected to be endorsed

Sir Julian King: as one of 28 commissioners, the Europhile will play a key role in future Brexit talks. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Sir Julian King: as one of 28 commissioners, the Europhile will play a key role in future Brexit talks. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Britain’s nominee to become the next British EU commissioner will be questioned by MEPs in Strasbourg today ahead of a Thursday vote on his candidature.

Sir Julian King was nominated by former prime minister David Cameron in early July to replace Jonathan Hill.

Lord Hill resigned within days of the British referendum on June 23rd. His financial services portfolio was reallocated to European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis.

As with all commissioners who appeared before their relevant committees at the European Parliament following their recommendation by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014, Sir Julian must be assessed by the parliament.

Last month the commission announced that the commissioner-designate would be given responsibility for the “security union”, a concept announced by Mr Juncker following the wave of terrorist attacks that hit Europe earlier this year.

Security tops agenda

Dimitris Avramopoulos

Nonetheless, Sir Julian’s position as one of the EU’s 28 commissioners will be a key link between Britain and the EU as Britain’s exit from the union is negotiated in the coming months and years.

Sir Julian, who was Britain’s ambassador to France when his appointment was announced, is seen as a committed Europhile with an expert knowledge of EU affairs. Married to a senior EU diplomat, he formerly worked as chief of staff to former British commissioner Peter Mandelson.

He served as ambassador to Ireland from 2009-2011, overseeing the first state visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth.

This evening Sir Julian will appear before the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee in Strasbourg, where he will deliver an opening and closing statement and answer questions. The committee will then privately make a recommendation to senior parliamentary officials on Tuesday before a full vote on his candidacy on Thursday.

Although the vote is technically non-binding, support from the parliament is in practice a prerequisite for his appointment, and he is widely expected to be endorsed.

Sir Julian’s appearance before the parliament takes place days after it announced that former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt has been appointed as the parliament’s chief point of contact for Brexit talks.

A committed federalist and Europhile, Mr Verhofstadt has previously criticised Britain’s stance towards Europe, arguing that it “must not hold the EU to ransom”.

Deep knowledge

His appointment follows the European Council’s appointment of Belgian diplomat Didier Seeuws to head up the Brexit taskforce, and former French commissioner Michel Barnier as the commission’s senior Brexit official.

Mr Seeuws worked as a spokesman for Mr Verhofstadt when he was Belgium’s prime minister.