UK's Lord Hill meets his EU critics

Lord Hill at hearing, 1 Oct 14 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Lord Hill managed to charm many MEPs and got some laughter

It was the confirmation hearing that people wanted to queue for. The expectation was that Lord Hill, the British politician appointed to be the European commissioner for financial regulation, would be verbally roughed up.

It never really happened. Jonathan Hill was quick to disarm his critics. He said several times that he was not in Brussels as a representative of the City of London. "I want to work," he stressed, "for the common European interest". He described himself as a "pragmatic, consensual European politician".

There was no hostility towards him. When a German MEP said he would speak to him in the language of Goethe, Jonathan Hill replied by saying "not so long ago the English monarch had a German accent" and there was laughter.

When he was asked by a British MEP which came first, his oath to the Queen as a British minister, or his oath as a European commissioner, he retorted "there is no conflict between the two whatsoever". And some of the European Parliament committee clapped.

To those MEPs who feared he might be light on enforcing regulation he said there was no going back to the world of risk-taking, "of banks being rescued on the backs of taxpayers".

He promised to uphold financial regulations, saying "a law is a law, is a law".

Some MEPs raised his background running a lobbying company. One questioned how it was possible for him not to have been influenced by the bankers. What were his ethics, one MEP asked. Several times Jonathan Hill said he had sold his business eight years ago and owned no shares.

But some MEPs were frustrated by his lack of detail. They said his hearing was "full of generalities". They wanted to know how quickly he would introduce the third stage of banking union - the deposit guarantee scheme - but he would not be drawn. He drew some laughter when he said he didn't have a particularly well-informed view on eurobonds or common European debt.

He spoke about launching a capital markets union. He said part of his task was unlocking private sector money alongside public to boost growth.

Afterwards one prominent MEP described Jonathan Hill as "charming but empty". The MEPs won't wave his appointment through, but neither are they likely to block it.

He cleverly built his pitch around transparency, promising to tell MEPs whom he would be meeting, as one of the EU's most sensitive commissioners. But he has not dispelled the doubts.

Lord Hill's career

  • Born in north London in July, 1960
  • Read history at Cambridge University
  • 1980s - Special adviser to Kenneth Clarke in Conservative cabinet
  • Early 1990s - Adviser to then PM John Major during EU's Maastricht Treaty negotiations, which launched euro
  • 1994-1998 - Senior consultant at lobbying firm Bell Pottinger Group
  • Founding director of Quiller Consultants
  • 2010 - Becomes a Life Peer as Baron Hill of Oareford and junior education minister
  • Serves as leader of House of Lords and leader of Conservatives in the House

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