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Lord Hill given EC finance role

Conservative peer Jonathan Hill has been given an economic post in Brussels' executive by Jean-Claude Juncker.

Lord Hill of Oareford will take over the financial stability, financial services and capital markets union portfolio on the European Commission.

The former leader of the House of Lords was put forward by Prime Minister David Cameron to serve on Mr Juncker's new European Commission earlier this summer.

But it was feared Britain would miss out on an economic role because the commission president - whose appointment was fiercely resisted by Mr Cameron - had indicated he wanted a woman to be Britain's top representative in Brussels.

Mr Cameron has sought to build bridges with Mr Juncker since his very public bid to stop the appointment of the man he saw as a roadblock to reform in the European Union.

Chancellor Ge orge Osborne said the announcement was "great news" for Britain.

He said: " Look forward to working with Lord Hill, EU financial services commissioner, to build safer & more competitive sector. Great news for UK."

Think tank Open Europe declared the announcement an "important victory" and suggested it was more than Mr Cameron might have hoped for.

A spokesman said: " Given the importance of financial services to the UK economy, securing this portfolio is an important victory - and more than Cameron might have hoped for.

"Just as importantly, this role will give the UK a voice in how further Eurozone integration affects the single market in financial services across the entire EU and the City of London.

"With key court cases on bankers' bonuses and clearing the euro currency in London looming, the UK Commissioner could have a big impact.

"Overall, the UK can be cautiously optimistic about the new commission which contains a number of heavyweight figures who share the UK's economically liberal and pro-trade outlook."

The commission said the new team would focus on tackling the big political challenges Europe is facing and it would be " open to reform".

Mr Juncker said he had focused on people not countries when choosing his "winning team".

He said: "In these unprecedented times, Europe's citizens expect us to deliver. After years of economic hardship and often painful reforms, Europeans expect a performing economy, sustainable jobs, more social protection, safer borders, energy security and digital opportunities.

"Today I am presenting the team that will put Europe back on the path to jobs and growth. In the new European Commission, form follows function.

"We have to be open to change. We have to show that the commission can change. What I present to you today is a political, dynamic and effective European Commission, geared to give Europe its new start.

"I have given portfolios to people - not to countries. I am putting 27 players in the field, each of whom has a specific role to play - this is my winning team."

Downing Street welcomed the announcement of Lord Hill's new post, which Mr Cameron's official spokesman said would give a voice to non-euro countries in the development of the single market and the eurozone banking union.

The PM's spokesman said: "We welcome president-designate Juncker's announcement of the new European Commission-designate.

"We have made the case for an economic portfolio for Lord Hill and I think that is what we have seen in today's announcement.

"What we see here - unlike in the previous Commission - is a stand-alone financial services portfolio that also brings with it elements of financial stability that were previously in another portfolio. It will be this portfolio that is looking at financial services issues in the single market, but also issues such as banking union, which have always been thought of as having particular relevance to the eurozone.

"We are seeing that being led by a Commissioner from a non-euro member-state. I think that speaks to the point that the Prime Minister and others have been making about the importance, as we go ahead with reform of the EU, of ensuring that the voice of countries that are not in euro and will not join the euro - such as the UK - are fully represented."

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute Of Directors, said: "The Institute of Directors greatly welcomes the allocation of the Financial Services commissionership to Britain's nominee Lord Hill.

"This is a significant economic portfolio - particularly given President Juncker's pledge to create a capital markets union. Entrusting this commitment along with financial services to a UK Commissioner is a clear demonstration that British influence in Brussels is far from waning."

But Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: "What a coup for Juncker - he has got an Englishman to be hangman for the British financial industry, a huge contributor to our national tax revenue.

"Mr Cameron transferred control of Britain's financial services industry - our biggest industry - to the European Union in 2010. That process has now been completed by the appointment of a British commissioner to make sure that everything is done on an EU level.

"It is vital to note that Lord Hill will not be acting in the interests of the British Government or the British people; he will be making a solemn pledge to act in the interests of the European Union."

Lord Hill said he had been given "a great responsibility" and would focus on creating the right conditions for jobs and growth.

He said: " President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker has given me a great responsibility in asking me to take on the financial stability, financial services and capital markets union portfolio, a sector of fundamental importance to the European economy.

"I am very much looking forward to working in his team. In the coming weeks, ahead of the confirmation hearings, my priority will be to talk to members of the European Parliament's committee on economic and monetary affairs to hear their concerns and to benefit from their experience.

" But my starting point is that there is much work to do to build on the important legacy of Michel Barnier to ensure we have stable and well regulated financial markets. As President-elect Juncker has stressed, nothing is more important in the years ahead than creating the right conditions for jobs and growth, and I look forward to playing my part in that task and in building a stronger Europe."

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Business for Britain, which is campaigning for a new deal with the EU, said: "We should be very pleased with this appointment - it's a definite 'win' for the Prime Minister. The financial services industry is one of Britain's most important economic assets so it's good news that the Commissioner overseeing it will understand our deep concerns about the EU's recent interference with the City.

"A key task for Lord Hill is to ensure that non-Eurozone countries are protected from being constantly overruled by the Eurozone bloc. He must also ensure that the EU doesn't unnecessarily 'gold plate' international financial regulations to appease politicians in the low-growth Eurozone and must oppose policies that are driven simply by crude populism."

Labour's Europe spokesman, Gareth Thomas, said: "The key test for David Cameron remains whether he can ensure that Britain plays a leading role in pushing an agenda for change and reform within the new European Commission.

"The priority for the UK's newly appointed European Commissioner in the months to come will be to start repairing broken alliances and building bridges with partners across the EU so that he can effectively speak up for Britain and push for reforms that Europe needs, and Britain wants."

CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall said: "Business is looking for Lord Hill to use his key role at Europe's top table to push for reforms that will create jobs and growth across the continent. This major appointment along with the make-up of the full Commission has laid strong foundations for ambitious reform in Europe.

"Lord Hill must see through the important steps already taken to secure Europe's financial stability and seize the opportunity to keep Europe's financial markets open, competitive and able to deliver the finance businesses need to grow. This will allow the UK financial services industry, so central to our economic success, to deliver for the whole of Europe."

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Businesses will be pleased to see a British commissioner in an important economic role overseeing the financial services sector. It is a huge improvement over the energy portfolio, as businesses were worried that 'our man in Brussels' would be fighting energy battles in the east, rather than working on improving markets and growth prospects across the EU.

"The UK has not got one of the top roles, but still an important one - a good outcome given the circumstances."

Roland Rudd, chairman of Business for New Europe, said: "This line-up shows that Juncker is serious about reform. Reducing the number of portfolios and departments will help streamline the Commission. Creating a new Vice-President for better regulation and giving the job to Frans Timmermans, who has been a tireless champion for subsidiarity, is a very good move.

"And giving the financial services brief to Jonathan Hill, together with capital markets union and financial stability, is clearly good news for the UK and plays to London's strengths."

Mr Cameron welcomed Lord Hill's appointment to a role that is "vital" for British interests.

He said: " Good that Lord Hill has been nominated as EU commissioner for financial services: a vital sector for jobs, pensions & savings across the UK."

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