LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday nominated Jonathan Hill, a relatively unknown lawmaker who backs his leader’s European renegotiation strategy, to become Britain’s next European commissioner.
Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain’s ties with the European Union and hold a membership referendum in 2017 if he wins a national election next year. Hill, a 53-year-old lord, is expected to play an important role in that process.
Britain had been expected to nominate a high-profile and possibly female politician to the EU executive in order to increase the country’s chances of securing an influential portfolio. The choice of Hill came as a surprise.
In a statement released by Cameron’s office, Hill, whose old job as Leader of the House of Lords involved coordinating the ruling Conservative party’s legislative business in the unelected upper house of parliament, said he supported Cameron’s strategy of keeping Britain inside a reformed European Union.
“I also believe that the UK’s interests are best served by playing a leading role in the EU, shaping the organisation as it changes to meet the challenges it now faces,” Hill said.
“In five years time, when the next European elections take place, I want to be able to say to people across Europe – including Britain – that the European Commission has heeded their concerns and changed the EU for the better.”
Hill’s voting record in the upper house of parliament shows he also favours holding a referendum in the event of any future transfer of further powers to Brussels. However, he is not regarded as a hardline Eurosceptic.
Britain wants to secure a major economic portfolio in the new Commission to help drive Cameron’s agenda of reducing barriers to trade and to act as a brake on countries using the euro who want deeper political and fiscal integration.
But the task of winning such a prize portfolio has been complicated by Cameron’s high-profile defeat at a meeting of European leaders last month over the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to lead the Commission. Cameron saw Juncker as too federalist to implement meaningful reform and forced an unprecedented vote on the issue, which he lost.
Cameron said Hill’s political experience and track record as a businessman made him well-suited for the Commission job. Hill founded a lobbying firm in 1998.
“He has proven a skilled negotiator respected by all parties,” Cameron said. “And having founded his own company, he also has a strong understanding of the private sector and how the EU can help businesses to generate growth and create jobs.”
Media speculation over the nomination had been intense and, while Hill’s name had been mentioned, he had not been considered one of the frontrunners for the job.
Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Jeremy Gaunt