CHOICE of the UK’s next EU commissioner presents a difficult decision for David Cameron. It is also a crucial one in determining how successfully the UK can secure the reforms that best serve its interests, including for the financial services sector. In considering his preferred candidate, Cameron undoubtedly feels the need to accommodate his resolutely Europhile Liberal Democrat partners, while knowing that his backbenchers crave a Eurosceptic.
The danger is that he opts for a Cabinet member nearing the end of his or her career – who views the role as a string to their bow, but who would be completely ineffective in promoting British interests. In 1989, Margaret Thatcher rid herself of Leon Brittan by sending him to Europe; Cameron should take this appointment more seriously. The answer is simple: the best choice would be a career civil servant (perhaps with a central banking background), with years of experience implementing reforms and controlling complex departments.
The open politicking that Cameron carried out in opposing the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission was, of course, disastrous. But it does provide a suitable lesson for future negotiations. Eurosceptic bluster will harm the chances of our commissioner getting one of the key roles, while simplistic Europhile dogma will yield few tangible results and is also politically unlikely. It is time for a more sophisticated approach.
The EU faces fundamental challenges over its political direction, structures and powers. There is a good chance that the UK commissioner could take on the role of implementing vital financial sector reforms, and a second-rate Cabinet member who is viewed as a “generalist politician” will not cut through when it matters. How much Andrew Lansley, leader of the House of Commons, knows about the Liikanen proposals, or environment secretary Owen Paterson knows about the drive for bail-in, recovery and resolution mechanisms, is not clear.
The temptation is, therefore, to look outside politics for an appropriate candidate, and there would undoubtedly be benefits in choosing someone from the world of business. However, a top civil servant would be better-placed to navigate the intricacies of EU negotiations, while focusing on the real goal: what is best for UK Plc.
I believe that there are five obvious candidates: former Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member dame Kate Barker, the Bank’s current deputy governor Sir Jon Cunliffe, permanent secretary to the Treasury Sir Nicholas Macpherson, national security adviser Sir Kim Darroch, and former chairman of the FSA Lord Adair Turner.
Each has the track record, ability and competence needed to fill this role and negotiate within the Commission for Britain. By appointing one of them, it would also be possible to appease all interested parties, and show our fellow EU members that we were appointing someone of a respectable calibre. Most importantly, one of these experts would be best placed to maximise the chance of decent reform in the interests of the UK.
John Mann is Labour MP for Bassetlaw, and a member of the Treasury Select Committee.