European Finance Commissioner Jonathan Hill has resigned in the wake of the Brexit referendum. Will the British government, which isn’t rushing to leave the EU, nominate a successor? Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels.
Britain’s withdrawal from Brussels has begun with the resignation of Lord Jonathan Hill, the European commissioner for financial stability, financial services and capital markets union. “What is done cannot be undone,” Hill said in his resignation, “and now we have to get on with making our new relationship with Europe work as well possible.” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker responded in writing that he regretted the resignation of a “true European.” The president and Hill had discussed this step a week in advance – just in case Brits voted to leave. When they did, Hill declined Juncker’s wish for him to stay longer.
In 2014, Juncker had specifically entrusted the British Conservative with the task of supervising money markets in London, Europe’s financial hub. “It was a symbol of my hope for the membership of the United Kingdom,” Juncker said. Before he was nominated to the European Commission, Hill had criticized the bureaucracy in Brussels. He asserted that he had not been “a starry-eyed European enthusiast” when he took the job. The commissioner-designate was thus met with skepticism in the European Parliament during hearings to determine his suitability for the post. Now, two years later, he is convinced that the EU model has done much good for Britain – especially in the establishment of a banking union and the intended capital market union. Hill was one of the few leading Brussels-based politicians who actively campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Union.
The first post-Brexit public resignation of a leading British politician in Brussels could perhaps put the government in London under a bit of pressure. Right now, Great Britain wants to trigger the official exit process in October, after Prime Minister David Cameron has been replaced. However, Juncker wants to start divorce proceedings as soon as possible – even if that is a painful task.
Hill will remain in office for a few days before handing his portfolio off to Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis, who leads the commission’s Euro and Social Dialogue project. Britain, for as long as it remains in the European Union, is entitled to nominate Hill’s successor – or another commissioner – just like any other member could.
According to the Lisbon Treaty, the 28 European commissioners do not represent their countries in the EU’s one supranational body, which is meant to work toward the interests of the entire bloc. But anyone in Brussels knows that of course commissioners maintain close ties to their governments back home so that they can occasionally pull strings behind the scenes. The Lisbon Treaty had originally foreseen the downsizing of the European Commission, to 19 members, but attempts to do so have failed because of opposition from the member states, especially Ireland.
Hill, now 56, can return to the House of Lords, where he serves as a life peer. He has also worked as an entrepreneur and businessman.
Apart from Hill, about 1,200 British civil servants work at the European Commission. It is expected that high-ranking officials such as general directors will be suspended. However, on Friday Juncker seemed to suggest that other British civil servants could keep their jobs in Brussels, even after the Brexit is finalized. Several hundred Britons also work on the European Council, in the European Parliament, on the Committee of the Regions, on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and in other EU institutions.