EU's Juncker gives France, Britain key economic jobs

10th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

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 euroscepticism 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 euroscepticism 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, Sweden get big jobs -

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.

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".

- 'Shake things up' -

Juncker vowed that his new Commission was up to the job.

"This commission has the expertise you need to tackle the economic and geostrategic challenges Europe is facing," he said.

Juncker said he had decided to "shake things up a bit" with his plans for the seven vice presidents who would work with the Commissioners to ensure policy was well coordinated and more easily understandable to EU citizens.

One of these, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, "will be my right hand man" as his first vice president, focusing on regulation.

The EU's new masters face huge challenges.

After making it through the eurozone crisis without the currency collapsing, the European economy now appears to be stalling and there are fears it could face a decade of stagnation and deflation.

Unemployment is a huge concern, particularly among the young, in countries such as Spain, Greece and Italy.

The commission must also rebuild confidence in Brussels itself after the unprecedented rise of eurosceptic parties in European Parliament elections in May.

The crisis in Ukraine meanwhile poses the biggest foreign policy challenge to the EU, which is struggling to stay united over its latest round of sanctions against Russia.

The powerful post of EU diplomatic chief went to Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini at the end of August.

Juncker earlier cleared a major hurdle by finding the nine women candidates the European Parliament had demanded if it was to approve the new Commission.

© 2014 AFP

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