BRUSSELS — Britain's controversial choice for the key EU financial services job has stumbled at the first hurdle with Brussels lawmakers, while Spain's candidate for the incoming European Commission also faced a tough time.
Jonathan Hill will be recalled for a second grilling next week, after a European Parliament confirmation hearing during which he appeared to charm legislators with jokes about the queen, but left them short of details.
Hill, from British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party, is the first member of Jean-Claude Juncker's incoming European Commission team to be recalled since the parliamentary interviews started on Monday.
The fate of Spain's energy and climate commissioner-designate Miguel Arias Canete was also in doubt after he faced a barrage of questions about alleged conflicts of interest and sexism.
The European Parliament can ask Juncker to change members of his line-up – as it has done previously in 2004 and 2009 – and it must approve the entire commission in a vote on October 22.
Answers 'lacked content'
Hill had sought to mollify a sceptical parliament by telling them that he would work for Europe and not for London, denying accusations that as a former lobbyist he would be a stooge for Britain's crucial financial services industry.
"I want Britain to be part of a successful European Union," said Hill, the former leader of Britain's House of Lords.
"I want to work for the common European interest." Hill's nomination in September was widely seen as an olive branch from Juncker to an increasingly europhobic Cameron, who has promised a refrendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017.
But Hill insisted that he backed strong regulation, saying he was "not here as a representative of the City of London." Softly-spoken and urbane, he joked to MEPs about his poor command of foreign languages, and won applause by brushing off a question from a eurosceptic British lawmaker about his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II.
But a European source said later that his answers "lacked content" and that he would get a "second chance" next Monday or Tuesday to explain the details of his policy on key financial issues.
"Hill does not get confirmation today. He will be invited to a new public exchange of views" with the economic affairs committee, Green euro-MP Sven Giegold wrote on Twitter. – 'No conflict of interest' – Spain's Canete is also headed for trouble.
He was repeatedly forced to deny accusations of a conflict of interest after having sold his shares in two oil firms shortly after his nomination to the energy job in September, while his son resigned from the board of one company.
"The very day I knew I was being appointed the commissioner, I ordered to sell the shares. From the outset I have said I have no conflict of interest," said Canete, whose job is crucial at a time when the EU faces tensions with major gas supplier Russia.
The bearded Spaniard also apologised for alleged sexism after making macho comments towards a female rival at a debate last year. "It was indeed an unfortunate comment and I apologise once again to you," he said.
More than 300,000 people, including 76 EU parliamentarians, had signed a petition against his appointment.
There was also a "Stop Canete" protest by the Greens and the radical left outside parliament. Hungary's Tibor Navracsics, a former justice minister, faced a rough ride too on Wednesday, having repeatedly clashed with the EU over Hungarian Prime Minster Viktor Orban's crackdown on media regulation and the justice system.
His nomination as Culture, Education, Youth and Citizenship commissioner was particuarly galling to critics given Orban's deep euroscepticsm – Orban and Britain's Cameron were the only national leaders to oppose Juncker's election in June.
But Navracsics also sought to play up his pro-Brussels credentials, saying: "I am proud of being a European and will be proud of being a European in the future." The European Commission is the EU's executive branch, and will spearhead policy for the bloc for the next five years. — AFP