LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has nominated its ambassador to France, Julian King, to fill its vacant seat on the European Commission, replacing Jonathan Hill who resigned after Britons voted to leave the European Union.
While British Prime Minister David Cameron has been keen to replace Hill, EU sources have said the bloc’s lawmakers could block any appointment as long as Britain failed to bind itself into the tight, two-year EU exit process by refusing to give formal notice it is leaving.
“Sir Julian King is an experienced diplomat, he’s got particular expertise in European affairs and the prime minister thinks he will make a strong addition to the Commission,” Cameron’s spokeswoman told reporters on Friday.
The spokeswoman said Britain currently remained a full paying member of the EU and its priority was to fill what it considered to be an important role.
King has served in Brussels before, notably as chief-of-staff to two previous British commissioners, Peter Mandelson and Catherine Ashton in 2008-09. He has also been ambassador to Ireland, the EU state with possibly most to lose from Brexit, and he only took up his post in Paris five months ago.
King will meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday morning to assess his qualifications for the job, a spokeswoman for the EU executive said. She declined to give more details on what policy portfolio King might take on.
EU officials said his appointment, if Juncker agreed to it, would first be subject to scrutiny by the European Parliament, meaning King could not take office until after lawmakers return in late August from a summer break that starts next week.
The present British commissioner, Hill, steps down next Friday after resigning following the June 23 referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU. Cameron will also step down once his Conservative Party elects a new leader in early September.
In a sign of souring relations, several sources in the EU legislature said lawmakers could block King as long as Britain failed to bind itself into the tight, two-year EU exit process by refusing to give formal notice it is leaving.
Some question whether Britain should have a commissioner at all, given that it is leaving the EU and will be negotiating, in part with the Commission, on its divorce terms.
EU treaties stipulate that when a commissioner resigns they should be replaced by a member from the same member state. The Commission and the Council of member states has said that London retains all its rights and obligations in the EU until it leaves. But the British withdrawal is unprecedented.
Hill’s financial services portfolio, a huge prize for Cameron when Hill was named in 2014, has already been reallocated to the commissioner for the euro as euro zone states start to take advantage of London’s exclusion.
EU sources have said a handful of possibilities have been mentioned for a British commissioner, including multi-lingualism, space, audit or African relations. One parliamentary source said Cameron had sought a role in climate policy.
There has also been speculation that a new British member of the Commission would have no policy portfolio and would be restricted to handling matters relating to the Brexit process.
Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Michael Holden and Gareth Jones