NEWS

EU’s Juncker gives France, Britain key economic jobs [Update]

France and Britain secured top positions on Wednesday in incoming European Commission President Jean Claude-Juncker’s new team, which must tackle a stagnant economy, rising euroskepticism and the Ukraine crisis on its borders.

Former French finance minister Pierre Moscovici was named economic affairs commissioner, the most coveted job in the new regime that will run the European Union for the next five years.

Britain, whose place in the EU is under threat from a surge in euroskepticism at home, scored a coup by winning the financial services post for its nominee Jonathan Hill, the ex-head of Britain’s House of Lords.

“I am convinced it will be a winning team,” Juncker told a press conference.

The former Luxembourg prime minister also appointed a team of seven so-called “super commissioners” – many of them from newer Eastern European members – who as vice-presidents will oversee huge areas of policy.

The team takes office in November, provided it wins the approval of the European Parliament.

Juncker’s new line-up, which includes four former prime ministers and several former finance ministers, will guide a bloc that covers more than half a billion people and, taken as a whole, is the world’s biggest economy.

The European Commission is arguably the most powerful institution in Brussels as it drafts EU legislation, polices national budgets and anti-trust regulations, and negotiates trade treaties.

Germany’s Gunther Oettinger was named as digital economy commissioner, while Spain’s Miguel Arias Canete got the energy and climate post, a key job with the Ukraine crisis threatening gas supplies from Russia.

Sweden’s Cecilia Malmstroem gets trade – potentially a poisoned chalice as she must oversee torturous negotiations for a vast trade deal with the United States – while Denmark’s Margarethe Vestager will oversee the competition portfolio.

Greece’s Dimitris Avramopoulos, whose country faces a massive influx of illegal migrants from the Middle East and Africa, is named immigration and internal affairs commissioner.

Margaritis Schinas, also from Greece, was named new EU Commission spokesman.

The announcement followed months of behind-the-scenes horse-trading in Brussels over the top jobs.

Moscovici overcame reservations from Germany about France’s ability to meet key EU budget targets.

Juncker pointedly said the Frenchman would be overseen by two hawkish “super commissioners” from Eastern Europe — Finland’s Jyrki Katainen, who will cover jobs and growth, and Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis, in charge of the euro.

Hill’s post appeared to be a way of reaching out to Britain, which is is set to hold a referendum in 2017 on its membership of the EU.

London wanted the post as its financial services industry is a key sector of the British economy, despite concerns from other members which want to see the City more tightly regulated.

Hill said in a statement he had been given a “great responsibility.” [AFP, Kathimerini]