BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of the European Parliament said on Wednesday that the “radically anti-European” views of Jonathan Hill, British premier David Cameron’s nominee for the European Commission, might prevent him getting onto the EU’s executive body.
“I cannot imagine Hill, whose views - in as far as he’s got any - are radically anti-European, getting a majority in the European Parliament,” said the legislative body’s president, Martin Schulz, a Social Democrat from Germany.
London’s choice of the Eurosceptic leader of the House of Lords for Britain’s next European Commissioner and of prominent Eurosceptic Philip Hammond as foreign secretary have been met with dismay by some European Union politicians.
Cameron promises to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties and hold an in/out referendum in 2017 if he is re-elected next year. The nominations are a nod to Eurosceptics among his Conservatives and to the growth of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP).
“It’s no secret that Lord Hill shares the prime minister’s views in terms of the need for Europe to reform ... and also the changing of Britain’s relationship with the EU as part of that,” said Cameron’s spokesman. The British leader was confident Hill “will command wide respect in Brussels”, added the aide.
The 28 EU member states’ commissioners-designate undergo individual confirmation hearings with parliamentary committees on their portfolios in September and an informal indicative vote on their suitability is usually held afterwards.
However, the EU assembly cannot formally vote to confirm or reject individuals. It can only give or withhold a vote of confidence on the entire Commission as a college at the end of the process, usually in early October.
Parliament has applied pressure via the committee hearings to force member states to withdraw their candidates in three cases since 2004. The best known was when Italy withdrew Rocco Buttiglione’s candidacy for the justice and home affairs job after he said in his hearing that homosexuality was a sin.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage called Schulz’s remarks “a declaration of war ... on the choice of the British government”.
“How dare Martin Schulz interfere in the British nomination of its European Commissioner and prejudge what the decision of the MEPs will be,” said Farage in a statement, adding that it was “beyond me” how Schulz could consider Hill a Eurosceptic.
Schulz, returning as head of the European Parliament after his centre-left bloc came second in May’s EU election, said EU lawmakers were not prejudiced against Hill, “but it remains to be seen whether Mr Hill will be unprejudiced towards us”.
“Whether he gets a majority depends on that,” Schulz told the German radio station Deutschlandfunk.
Cameron bitterly opposed the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, the former premier of Luxembourg, as the new president of the European Commission but was defeated by other EU leaders. Juncker’s appointment was approved by lawmakers on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Gernot Heller in Berlin, William James in London and Paul Taylor in Paris; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Susan Fenton and Madeline Chambers