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Coffee House

The Great Brussels Steeplechase: runners and riders to be Britain’s next European Commissioner

10 July 2014

2:11 PM

10 July 2014

2:11 PM

Next week, EU leaders will meet to parcel out the top jobs in the next European Commission. So David Cameron doesn’t have long to decide who he is going to nominate—and Berlin is already bugging him for his pick. Here’s The Spectator‘s run down of the runners and riders.

Queen Elizabeth II Attends The State Opening Of Parliament

Andrew Lansley: Until recently the firm favourite. But in recent weeks support for him has fallen away. No. 10 has been irritated by the hints he has dropped about having been offered the job. It has also grasped that nominating someone as compensation for dropping them from the Cabinet is a recipe for getting a second-tier job.

(Image: ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

(Image: ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

David Willetts: The science and universities minister is keen to be sent to the Commission. He knows how to play the Brussels game: Britain has become the biggest beneficiary of EU research funds on his watch. He’s well known on the European circuit, too, an attendee at the Franco-British Colloque and has deep links with the Konrad Adenauer foundation. He is fluent in German, which is a major plus given how dominant Germany now is in the EU. He is also a sociable cove. But I detect surprisingly little enthusiasm in No. 10 for the idea of Commissioner Willetts. One longstanding friend of the Prime Minister tells me that Cameron hasn’t really forgiven him for backing David Davis in the 2005 leadership contest.

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National Security Council Meeting In Response To The Situation In Ukraine

Michael Fallon: Normally, when Downing Street has a problem it can’t solve, it sends for Fallon — which is why he currently has three ministerial jobs. As a business and energy minister, Fallon spends an inordinate amount of time in Brussels and ran the PM’s European regulation taskforce. But his great skill is putting out fires, so he’d be missed in Whitehall. He is also not a Cabinet minister, which could count against his getting the kind of senior post that Britain wants.

(Image: CLEMENS BILAN/AFP/Getty Images)

(Image: CLEMENS BILAN/AFP/Getty Images)

David Lidington: The Europe Minister is well known in Brussels and every other EU capital, having been Europe minister for four years. Cameron is an admirer: when one visitor to No. 10 urged him to replace Lidington with someone more Eurosceptic, he angrily responded that Lidington was the most effective junior minister he had. But to send someone who isn’t a Cabinet minister is to accept that Britain will take up one of the lower-ranking positions in Brussels: the digital agenda, regional policy or inter-institutional relations and administration.

Ministers Attend The Government's Weekly Cabinet

Owen Paterson: The Environment Secretary is probably the closest there is to a Eurosceptic Clegg. He speaks both French and German well enough to do business in them and as DEFRA Secretary is in charge of a department whose main job is dealing with EU rules. But it’s unclear whether Cameron would feel comfortable sending such a committed Eurosceptic to Brussels. Nick Clegg certainly wouldn’t — he would blow a fuse if Cameron made such a choice. The European parliament, which vets all such appointments, might see it as an act of aggression and respond accordingly.

(Image: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images)

(Image: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images)

Theresa Villiers: With Jean-Claude Juncker having promised that his Commission will have more women in senior positions than Barroso’s did, there’s much to recommend selecting a female nominee. But Downing Street’s scramble to find a suitable woman has run up against its own scepticism of several of its female Cabinet ministers. The Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, is a former MEP who knows her way round Brussels. She is also a staunch Eurosceptic. But she is not well regarded in No. 10.

Sandra Howard Book Launch Party

Michael Howard: Those who have discussed the appointment with senior No. 10 figures in recent days believe that there is momentum building behind Cameron’s predecessor as Tory leader. As a former Home Secretary, he has enough heft to command a senior position in the commission. His appointment would delight Tory Eurosceptics. But his public pronouncements on the EU are not so incendiary as to justify the European Parliament trying to block him. Then again, he is 73 and hasn’t been involved in frontline politics since he handed over to Cameron nine years ago. But his proximity to Cameron may well make up for his recent absence from the political scene. Those who have worked with him say that Howard won’t tout himself for the role but that he is open to the prospect of doing one last big job.

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