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European Commission: UK Member

Volume 755: debated on Thursday 10 July 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to announce the name of the next United Kingdom member of the European Commission.

My Lords, as set out in the treaties, Commission portfolios will be allocated by the Commission President Designate to those nominated by member states and agreed by common accord in the Council. We expect the European Parliament to confirm Mr Juncker’s appointment as President Designate on 15 July. The Commission as a whole will then be confirmed by the European Parliament in the autumn.

With the wise reminder last week of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, should not HMG deliberately and carefully make sure that they choose an ideal candidate on this occasion, because of the urgent matters in hand for the European Commissioner? The candidate should be an articulate, international, sagacious, knowledgeable person—maybe female again, like her predecessor—someone who actually likes the European Union and working with people and who likes foreigners and speaks foreign languages. As that would of course narrow down the field if it is a Conservative nominee, what about a Liberal Democrat one? We are the only party that stood up for Europe at the last election.

Possibly even from Yorkshire, my Lords. As to the serious part of my noble friend’s question, we need to make sure that our Commissioner candidate understands the changing role of the European Union, the need for reform and the fact that the Commissioner has to act in a way that benefits member states and the European Union as a whole. I can assure my noble friend, and indeed the House, that the Prime Minister has a line-up of very strong candidates.

My Lords, are the Government aware that our new Commissioner will have to swear sole allegiance to the European Union, ignoring our national interest?

Actually it is true; it is in the treaties. Does that not rule out privy counsellors, who have taken an oath of sole allegiance to the Queen?

The noble Lord will be aware that a number of privy counsellors have served as Commissioners and they have managed to serve incredibly well.

Does the noble Baroness agree that one of the qualities that our Commissioner will need is a capacity to ignore the personal vendetta that has been run by the Prime Minister against Mr Jean-Claude Juncker and to learn how to get on with him as the distribution of portfolios, which is of major importance to this country, will partly be the responsibility of Mr Juncker?

I take real issue with what the noble Lord has said. I try not to bring party politics to this Dispatch Box but it is important that, when the Prime Minister of this country takes a principled stance on an important matter—a matter on which his party agreed—we should stop the sniping and get behind him.

Mr Clegg is an incredibly effective Deputy Prime Minister and a Cabinet colleague for whom I have great respect. If he were to take on that role, I know that he would be deeply missed at Cabinet.

My Lords, if I were Prime Minister, I would want to avoid a by-election. Does the noble Baroness agree?

The important thing is that we make sure that we appoint a good Commissioner who does a good job in Europe. All the other factors are secondary.

Does my noble friend accept that there are some serious matters at stake here? At the heart of the Question—which has a lot of persiflage round it, if I may say so to my noble friend—is the fact that we need somebody who will go to Brussels and do the job properly, which means doing their best for the whole of the European Community, and who will have the confidence of people throughout the country. It should not be somebody who goes to Brussels with predetermined views and an unwillingness to work with our colleagues in the European Union.

My noble friend makes an important point. However, I think he would accept that at the recent European elections, not just in the United Kingdom but across the European Union, the citizens of the member states sent out a very clear signal about the kind of Europe they want, and it is important that Commissioners reflect that in their work.

I said “May I say to her”—there seems to be some difficulty with the English language on the other side of the House. The noble Baroness has demonstrated a full understanding of the real nature of the role of the Commissioner and the way in which the reform agenda has to be promulgated and effectively developed in the European Commission and, indeed, she is manifestly a woman. In order to make a real breakthrough and represent fully the proper interests of this country in the context of the realities of the treaty, which have been misrepresented by UKIP and by certain Members on her own side, may I make so bold as to nominate her for the position?

That is a very kind remark from the noble Lord. It is an incredibly important job but I can honestly say that it is not one that I am interested in.

My Lords, my noble friend has talked about the importance of the characteristics of the individual who is appointed. Given the portfolio that the United Kingdom is hoping to get within the economic sphere—on these Benches we would like it to be the single market because that is an area where reform really needs to continue—does she accept that the right candidate is one who has a deep and thorough understanding of the portfolio and that it is not just the characteristics of an individual per se that are important?

My noble friend makes an important point and, as I said at this Dispatch Box, the United Kingdom will be looking for an economic portfolio. My noble friend will be aware that the make-up of the portfolio itself has yet to be discussed and what the final portfolio will look like will be determined once the President has been confirmed.