Jonathan Hill, UK's low-key 'fixer' sent to Brussels

15th July 2014, Comments 0 comments

Jonathan Hill, nominated on Tuesday to be Britain's next European Commissioner, is considered a pragmatic dealmaker hardened by his time at the heart of government during Britain's disastrous exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The 53-year-old is hardly known outside Westminster and is unlikely to set pulses racing in Brussels, which had encouraged Prime Minister David Cameron to send a star female candidate.

Hill is wary of the limelight and only last month scoffed at suggestions that he would be nominated.

"Non, non, non," he said in French in the interview with the Conservative Home website, adding: "I quite like it at home, in the British Isles."

EU insiders trawling for background on Hill will find a consistent history of voting against laws increasing Brussels' power, although he publicly supports Britain's continued membership of the union.

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform (CER) think tank, described him as a "pro-European".

"He clearly has sensible views on Europe, he is a rationalist," Grant told AFP, adding that former European Commissioner Chris Patten "has spoken warmly of him to me".

"He is an operator, people say he is good at fixing people."

Grant predicted that Hill's low profile would prevent him from securing a plum job in Brussels, although there was still a chance he could land the role as Commissioner for Internal Market and Services.

In a statement on Tuesday, Hill said: "It's a huge responsibility to have the opportunity to play a part in reforming the EU but it is one that I am excited to have been offered."

Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain's EU membership if the Conservatives win next year's general election, but said he would campaign for the country to stay in the union.

Hill echoed the prime minister's stance, saying that Britain's interests "are best served by playing a leading role in the EU".

- 'Grim times' -

Critics point out that Hill has never been elected by the British public, undermining Cameron's promises to bring about more democratic legitimacy in the European Union.

Hill's first political job was as a Conservative Research Department staffer in 1985, having spent time working as a barman after graduating from Cambridge University.

He was soon promoted as special adviser to veteran Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke before taking a break from politics and spending two years in public relations.

Impressed by John Major's rise to power from humble roots, Hill sought to re-enter politics and eventually became the Conservative prime minister's political secretary in 1992.

During a tumultuous two-year stint, Hill was at the heart of the Tory party when Britain crashed out of the ERM, a system set up to improve monetary stability in Europe that was a precursor to the euro.

The chaos caused by 'Black Wednesday' in 1992, which included interest rates being raised by a full five percentage points in one day, is still a deeply painful episode for many involved.

In a recent interview, he described the experience as like "a medieval torture chamber".

"It was a grim time," he told House Magazine. "But I think that it's during the grim times that you learn most about people and about character."

After another spell in PR, Cameron named him to the House of Lords, parliament's upper chamber, in 2010 as a junior minister in the education department.

Hill rose to be Leader of the House of Lords in 2012, becoming a member of the cabinet.

© 2014 AFP

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