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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Which Commission post should the UK push for (clue: not energy)?

When it comes to EU top jobs, if you snooze you lose, as
Gordon Brown discovered to his cost in 2009
In a new briefing published this morning we argue that after the row over Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment, David Cameron can regain the initiative by sending a heavy-hitter - and not simply someone who happens to be available - to Brussels with the view to securing a top job in the new European Commission. But here is the crucial question - what job should the UK push for?

Here are the key points from our briefing:
  • Even though conventional political wisdom says that it’s impossible for the UK to bag the internal market portfolio, this is precisely what David Cameron should ask for, not least given that Germany, in particular, may want to give the UK a quick win in order to reduce the risk of Britain leaving the EU.
  • To boost the chances of this happening, financial services could be split off from the internal market portfolio. However, in this scenario, the key is for this portfolio to go to a country that actually has a meaningful financial services industry, or the strategy could backfire.
  • The second best outcome for the UK would be to secure the competition portfolio. competition is by far the most powerful DG, with the power to impose multi-million euro fines, prevent mergers and restructure banks. The portfolio would allow the UK to ensure a business-friendly environment and ensure fair competition within the single market by preventing discrimination against non-euro member states. It also establishes a political link to eurozone - it’s impossible for eurozone leaders not to engage with the Competition commissioner.
  • The Trade portfolio is often mooted as a good one for the UK, and on substance it certainly is. Being able to conclude the EU-US free trade deal (TTIP) would be a great scalp. However, it is important to remember that Commissioners’ ability to impact EU policy is not limited to their own briefs; many policy proposals are debated within the College of Commissioners offering every Commissioner the opportunity of raising any concerns at an early stage. Just as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs – currently held by Baroness Ashton - the Trade Commissioner is often absent from Brussels, thereby limiting the UK’s overall influence.
  • The energy portfolio would be a relative disappointment for the UK. Yes, energy is a hugely important issue for Europe – and liberalised single market could help tremendously in both boosting energy security and keeping cost down. The Energy Commissioner could also play a key role in keeping the EU out of shale gas regulation – a key UK objective. However, the big push needed to change the political culture in Europe for this to happen won’t come from the European Commission and will take a long time to achieve anyway. This battle will first need to be won in national capitals. Taken together though, the Competition Commissioner probably has more sway over the EU energy market by being able to strike down attempts at creating national champions and new forms of intervention – as illustrated by the current stand-off between Germany and the Commission over Berlin’s rebate for energy intensive industries from its domestic renewable surcharges.
  • Arguably, the social affairs brief would be better than the energy portfolio given how hugely important the rules on access to benefits for EU migrants are for the wider debate in the UK.
Just as important as the UK’s portfolio is the distribution of other key portfolios among reform-minded countries like the Netherlands and Sweden. Cameron needs to be far cleverer than Gordon Brown was in 2009, when France got internal market and Romania agriculture. This won’t be easy though. Having lost out on one of the three ‘top jobs’, France could push for either the competition or internal market brief. However, if France keeps the internal market, financial services should be split off as well.

Finally, the appointment of the new President of the European Council will also be crucial – in some ways just as significant as that of the Commission President – given that this will be the person in charge of brokering Cameron’s negotiations with other heads of state and government.

It's certainty all to play for.


Denis Cooper said...

Bear in mind that whoever is given whatever portfolio they will be working for the EU as a whole, not for their home country.

(Or, in the current preferred phraseology, "the member state they know best".)

That's unless they're prepared to solemnly swear their oath of office, and then break it.

julian said...

That's unless they're prepared to solemnly swear their oath of office, and then break it.

Like most of the Commissioners seem to do.

Rollo said...

The brexit door.

Average Englishman said...

Oh, the tension!
But seriously, this is all just an embarassment. The UK is a sovereign nation. It is not acceptable for us to scratch around in Europe waiting to see whether Frau Merkel should decide to throw us a bone, in the form of a job for a faceless EU apparatchnik who just happens to have been born in the UK. No thanks, I want all my laws made by people whom I and my fellow countrymen elect. Dave can compromise and all he likes and come up with one masterful renegotiation ruse after another but the only way for the UK to regain proper democratic control over its future is to leave this mess.

Anonymous said...

Could you provide some explanation of the requirement to split off financial services if Britain or France got the internal markets portfolio.

johnlandseer said...

Given all the shenanegens that have gone on in the past week, plus Herr Commissar Juncker's phrase "forgive but not forget" pray explain why the EU would wish to give us a portfolio of any substance?

Surely, with much deeper integration and loss of sovereignty on the cards to support the euro, why should we be given a big portfolio?

I rather view us as being in the EU departure lounge or semi detached at best with all things to do with the euroland/zone...

Anonymous said...

Since EUSSR Commissioners MUST serve the EUSSR and not their home nation, it makes n difference at all which "portfolio" which nations "gets."

At the end of the day, all 28 of them have to become good Germans.

Rik said...

Internal market would indeed be the best option.
Internal market needs a push and regained dynamic. Services directive for instance.
Plus that will likely benefit the UK as well in case of an exit. Services should be in place before the UK might decide on the exit. After that in case it is an exit it will be hard to achieve to become part of it (as a non member).
Definitely not a great idea to bring up splitting off financial services at this stage. The combination is a lot more valuable.

That is as far as Commision goes. Cameron might even consider going for a UK Council President.
See if the rest has the collones to offend the UK twice.
Especially as it seems clear that even the lost 'Juncker fight' worked well for Cameron in the polls.
Was a considerable gamble to start with a risky one like this but it worked out great.
Now we start from there. Looks like it does more good (via increased credibility mainly) than bad by losing a battle. At the same time eroding further the image of the EU in the UK.

PR is still in a lot of aspects poor. How many interviews with MEPs there have been that state that keeping the UK in is 'doing the UK a favour'
Negative consequences for the UK lost of trade in a poor economy and possible marketscares about EU/Euro falling apart on top of the list. You really get the impression they really mean it. Lack of strategical insight, analytical powers and general intelligence of course but those are the people you will have to deal with.

Cameron imho got too fast back in normal mode.
Fortunately he got away with it at home. He has to remeber that the main audience is his homecowd and it simply looks strange towards them.