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Home from Brussels, Hill assures Britons EU is close to them

LONDON (Reuters) - European Union policymakers are much more favourable to British interests and ideas than many Britons think, Prime Minister David Cameron’s nominee to the EU executive told an audience from the City of London on Friday.

European Commissioner for Financial Services, Jonathan Hill, speaks during a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event, London April 17, 2015. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Three weeks before an election in which Cameron has tried to fend off Eurosceptics by promising a referendum on leaving the EU if voters return him to power, Jonathan Hill, EU financial services commissioner, said he had been struck since arriving in Brussels how much common ground there was with London.

Pledging to play a role in overcoming misunderstandings that stem from different traditions in politics and the media on either side of the English Channel, Hill said: “This idea that Britain is isolated in the EU or somehow that British views are eccentric it not what I have found at all.”

“Single markets, free trade, better regulation. Those all sound like quite familiar things in British domestic politics,” he said, listing priorities of the new European Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker, whose appointment Cameron tried to block on the grounds the Luxemburger favoured too much EU regulation.

“I don’t buy the notion that there is a kind of conflict and I am struck much more by the number of people ... my fellow commissioners by how much similarity of outlook there is.”

Hill took care in his new role on the EU executive not to appear to intervene from Brussels in a campaign in which voters’ hostility to Europe may cost Cameron’s Conservatives seats.

But at a Reuters Newsmaker event for leaders of a financial services industry keen for better access to the EU’s 500 million consumers but exasperated by a surge in regulation after the global crash, Hill sought to counter the view of the anti-EU UK Independence Party that Brussels was hostile to Conservative ideas of free trade and small government.

Whether Cameron will be re-elected on May 7 -- and whether he can form a coalition with partners who would support his promise of an in-out referendum on the EU in 2017 -- is unclear.

But if the referendum project moves ahead, Hill, 54, could play a key backroom role as Cameron seeks changes in EU treaties, notably on free migration inside the bloc, in order to campaign strongly for voters to back staying in.

A former Conservative campaign adviser and public relations executive who was Cameron’s minister for the upper house of parliament until last year, Hill said his priority was to do his job as commissioner to improve the EU capital markets.

“I think it’s true to say there is a role I can play in translating, interpreting Brussels to Britain and Britain to Brussels,” Hill said.

He cited Britain’s blunt and Eurosceptic press as one reason for “misunderstandings”, with European leaders often offended by what they saw as mischievous coverage of their affairs by titles, some owned by global magnates such as Rupert Murdoch, which revel in unflattering national stereotypes.

“In the EU a good compromise is about the highest accolade because it’s hard to achieve. In the UK in politics, compromise?” he said, mimicking in gesture the distaste with which coalition and consensus-building are viewed by many British commentators used to a tradition of prime ministers wielding sweeping personal power.

Editing by Alison Williams