In the middle of a tough week for David Cameron, some good news. The new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has allocated jobs within his new Commission, effectively announcing his Cabinet line-up, and from a UK perspective the result is not at all bad.
For weeks there has been speculation, even a few leaks, that Cameron was going to be punished for having opposed Juncker’s appointment by getting a pretty menial role for the UK Commissioner Lord Hill. Energy and Climate Change was considered the most likely. After all, Jonathan Hill is hardly a ‘big-hitter’ in either British or European politics, so could we really expect much more?
In fact he’s been given one of the big economic jobs, and perhaps the one best suited to a UK Commissioner: financial services. Given London’s dominance and the EU’s known desire to clamp-down on everything from bonuses to a Financial Transaction Tax, this could hardly be better. It has long been the UK’s view that financial services regulation is best, where possible, left to the domestic regulator, and we can expect Lord Hill to take policy very much in that direction.
The Chancellor George Osborne immediately tweeted: “Great news for the UK”, and spoke of “looking forward to a safer and more competitive financial sector”. Especially more competitive.
But that is not the only piece of good news for British Tories. The portfolios of Trade, Competition, and the Internal Market have all gone to countries outside the Eurozone, and to people who share at least some of Cameron and Osborne’s liberalising agenda. There have been fears that increasingly the EU as a whole is being run by, and for the benefit of, the 18 Eurozone members. This will address at least some of those concerns.
Germany, obviously, gets a big job - Digital Economy and Security - and so too does France, with former Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici in charge of Economic and Monetary Policy. But crucially he will not be left in charge of enforcing Eurozone budget rules, which is just as well as France announced only this morning that it will yet again be in breach of the Fiscal Compact Treaty that it signed back in 2012 (the one that David Cameron vetoed). Paris is still a very long way from getting its financial house in order.
The icing on the cake for the UK is that a Dutchman, Frans Timmerman, is going to be Juncker’s right-hand man and the interpreter of the rules on ‘subsidiarity’. He has a track record of trying to get a bigger role for national parliaments in EU decision making, which is music to British ears, and a reasonably encouraging sign as David Cameron embarks on his mission to renegotiate Britain’s position in Europe.