BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain’s nominee for the European Commission will be put in charge of crafting a response to terrorism and promoting intelligence-sharing, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, a tough role amid a spate of attacks in western Europe.
Recently departed prime minister David Cameron nominated Julian King, currently ambassador to France, as Britain’s representative to replace Jonathan Hill, who resigned after Britons voted on June 23 to leave the bloc.
The Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, said King’s Security Union portfolio would include setting up a European response to terrorism, organised crime and cybercrime.
In his appointment letter, Juncker said he would like King to improve information and intelligence sharing, “including through initiatives to upgrade Europol’s European Counter-Terrorism Centre into a stronger structure and through the development of efficient and interoperable information exchange systems”.
London, which has in the past pushed for greater EU cooperation on security matters such as the sharing of airline passenger details, welcomed the announcement.
“Security is a vital issue for all Member States and co-operation across the EU can help to better protect us all from the range of threats we face,” a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement.
Juncker interviewed King on July 11, and the British diplomat is expected to appear in front of the European Parliament in early autumn to seek its endorsement.
The leader of the Liberals group, the chamber’s fourth-largest, was sceptical, pointing to London’s opt-out from EU justice and home affairs measures.
“It would be odd to give such an important portfolio to someone who has no incentive to further the European interest in general or, more specifically, to enhance the EU’s security capabilities,” Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, said in a statement.
King has served in Brussels before, notably as chief-of-staff to two previous British commissioners, Peter Mandelson and Catherine Ashton, in 2008-09. He has also been ambassador to Ireland, the EU state with possibly the most to lose from Brexit. He took up his post in Paris five months ago.
Additional reporting by William James in LONDON; Editing by Kevin Liffey