U.K. Appointee to EU Executive Vows Independence From London

  • Diplomat Julian King sidesteps Brexit questions at hearing
  • Commissioner-designate slated to be counter-terrorism chief

The new U.K. appointee to the European Union’s executive arm pledged to act independently of the British government as the rest of the EU waits for Prime Minister Theresa May to trigger Brexit negotiations.

QuickTake Brexit

Julian King, a career British diplomat designated to become counter-terrorism chief at the European Commission, told a confirmation hearing that he has the international experience and outlook to make “a real contribution in an area which is at the top of citizens’ concerns.” He’s due to fill the national seat in Brussels vacated by Jonathan Hill, who resigned as a commissioner after the U.K. voted in a June referendum to leave the 28-nation EU.

“I have always been proud to be British and proud to be European and see no contradiction between the two,” King told the European Parliament’s civil-liberties committee at a confirmation hearing on Monday evening in Strasbourg, France. “I will fulfill my tasks to the best of my ability serving the European general interest, and only the European general interest.”

The EU executive body, whose tasks range from managing the bloc’s budget and enforcing antitrust policy to regulating banks and running a foreign service, is led by a team of 28 commissioners -- one from each member country. They aren’t supposed to take instructions from national capitals.

Waning Influence

King’s appointment highlights the waning influence of the U.K. in the EU since the British referendum in which 52 percent of voters opted to quit the bloc. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave Hill’s heavyweight portfolio -- financial services -- to the EU commissioner from Latvia in charge of the euro and carved out a special job for King.

Not only is the portfolio drawn up for King squeezed between current commissioners, European anti-terrorism policy lacks the reach over national governments that financial-services regulation has. EU countries have guarded their sovereignty over security matters.

“Neither terrorism nor organized crime respects national borders,” King said at his hearing, where he occasionally spoke in French. “We will need the highest possible degree of coordination and joined-up teamwork with member states.”

King, who was British ambassador to France during the referendum campaign, said that he had “strongly advocated” the position of then Prime Minister David Cameron for the country to remain in the EU.

Harder Ride

While questions at the hearing focused mainly on security-policy matters, King was given a harder ride by U.K. members of the EU Parliament who are eager to quit the bloc. They tried and failed to get him to speculate about the length of the Brexit process by asking how long he expected to be a commissioner.

“Prime Minister May has been crystal clear about respecting the result of the referendum,” King replied. When the U.K. does depart, “my job here will cease.”

The EU Parliament’s civil-liberties committee endorsed King’s assignment on Tuesday morning, Claude Moraes, the panel’s chairman, told reporters. The full 751-seat assembly is due to vote on the appointment on Thursday.

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