A secret memo has been passed around top members of the coalition, including the Prime Minister and his deputy Nick Clegg, outlining what kind of political heavyweight needs to be appointed as Britain’s next European Commissioner.
The Number 10 memo lists the qualities needed for the next commissioner. According to a report in the Financial Times, for the first time it “gives a sense of the type of person Mr Cameron is likely to appoint later this year.”
The document appears to follow the usual Conservative line that the job is “pivotal” to Cameron’s attempts at European reform.
It contains a swipe at Catherine Ashton, the Labour politician who is in charge of EU foreign policy as well as being Britain’s European Commissioner. The memo says Britain’s next commissioner “should be able to speak for the UK in the EU, and the EU in the UK.”
Among the likely contenders are Conservative MPs Andrew Lansley, Leader of the House, David Willetts, who has the advantage of being able to speak German, and Andrew Mitchell, the chief whip who lost his job after false allegations were made against him by members of the Metropolitan Police.
However, the memo appears to make the same mistake as the Prime Minister and other “EU reforming” Conservatives when describing the role of the top Briton in Brussels.
Conservatives imagine a commissioner may “speak for the UK” once he sits at European Commission headquarters.
They demand a “tough Tory” who can “fight Britain’s corner.” They push the Prime Minister to ensure the UK’s next commissioner is given an influential economic portfolio.
Which only tells us that none of them understands how the EU works: there can be no “fighting Britain’s corner” at the commission.
First, even before Number 10 announces whom the Prime Minister wants as Britain’s next commissioner, the incoming president of the European Commissioner will make it clear to Cameron that, should the nominee be too obnoxious for the president’s liking, he will be given a portfolio so obscure that even the Latvian or Bulgarian commissioner would consider it an insult.
There are 27 portfolios in the “college of commissioners,” which the commission president can divide up, reinvent and hand out as he likes. In this, he is utterly beyond the control of the member states.
One can imagine Cameron’s top Tory in Brussels being made commissioner for Multilingualism and Youth or Consumer Policy. There are indeed commissioners handling those portfolios, but you’ve never heard of them.
More, the European Parliament can block the appointment of anyone Cameron nominates. It cannot block a single commissioner, but it can threaten to veto the entire new commission if the nomination is not withdrawn.
The parliament has made this threat successfully in the past, when it blocked the nomination of a conservative Catholic politician, Rocco Buttiglione, made by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2004.
Finally, new commissioners are required to stand before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and make a “solemn declaration” – in European terms, an oath — that they will uphold the principles and values enshrined in the EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights “in the fulfilment of all my duties.”
These values include a commitment to build “ever closer union.”
The new commissioner must also promise to be “completely independent” of any government, even his own government, “in the general interests of the union,” and accept the principle of Cabinet responsibility, by which the commission is run.
This leaves the next British commissioner with a choice: either he can make a public oath to uphold the treaties and work for full political and economic union, and then do exactly that, pulling the UK further into the centralised power of a European state.
Or he can make a public oath and then break his word.
What would be the moral standing of Andrew Lansley, David Willetts or Andrew Mitchell if they should do that?