Britain’s nominee for EU Commissioner faced a rare second grilling at the European Parliament today, parrying tough questions from MEPs on everything from the intricacies of banking union to his knowledge of Britain’s “Chipping Norton set” of media and political elite.
Since the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, handed Lord Hill the portfolio for financial services last month, the peer has faced accusations that his past in the private sector and his role in an often eurosceptic government makes him an unsuitable candidate to drive economic integration across the 28-member EU.
As Lord Hill himself put it yesterday: “I have had to overcome some suspicions about being a Brit.”
At his first hearing last week, Lord Hill appeared to placate his critics with a confident and witty performance. But hours after the grilling, MEPs announced that he would be called back to clarify his stance on the finer points of financial services, or risk rejection.
Yesterday’s grilling had a tougher tone with probing questions on key elements of his portfolio, which include forging a banking union to govern all the financial institutions in the EU, harmonising regulation across the bloc, and overseeing capital markets.
MEPs kept returning to his loyalties, with many troubled by his past career at the helm of a PR and lobbying firm, and any eurosceptic sympathies he may share with fellow members of the Conservative Party.
Lord Hill reassured them that he was a strong supporter of Britain staying in the European Union, reiterated previous statements about his independence from the City of London, and was quick to deny that he spent his spare time hobnobbing in the Oxfordshire countryside with politicians and media barons. “I’m not part of the Chipping Norton set. I live quietly down in Salisbury and don’t hang out with these sophisticated, well-connected types,” he said.
The MEPs must now decide whether Lord Hill has convinced them of his suitability. The whole commission goes to a full parliament vote on 22 October.
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