Juncker's olive branch to Britain

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Media captionJean-Claude Juncker says he would like the UK to remain a member of the EU

The UK got a top post in the new EU Commission and the one it particularly wanted.

Jonathan Hill will be the commissioner responsible for regulating Europe's financial services and the new rules for the banks. Although he will be acting in the "European" interest it means a Brit will have responsibility for the City of London.

He will be part of a team selected by Jean-Claude Juncker, the new Commission president. Mr Juncker told me that "I always intended to give a major portfolio to the British Commissioner. Not at least to avoid the impression that I could or would be angry as far as the decision-making process, strongly influenced by Britain, is concerned".

In other words Mr Juncker wanted to send a clear signal that there were no hard feelings, no grudges towards Prime Minister David Cameron for so strongly opposing his appointment as president.

In his press conference Mr Juncker had again seemed to be reaching out to the UK when he said, over Lord Hill's appointment, that "perhaps our UK friends will better understand Commission policies if explained in the language of Shakespeare".

Later, in an interview, he told me "I don't want to see Britain leave. We would lose all the virtues Britain is representing so I decided to give a major portfolio to Lord Hill".

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Image caption Lord Hill (left) and France's Pierre Moscovici - powerful new EU commissioners with economic influence

UK thumbs-up

UK Chancellor George Osborne said "it was great news for Britain" and there was a chorus of approval from within the UK. It was also a signal from Mr Juncker that the UK, which is outside the eurozone, would not be a second-class citizen in Europe.

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the lobby group Business for Britain, said "a key task for Lord Hill is to ensure that non-eurozone countries are protected from being constantly overruled by the eurozone bloc".

Sir Gerry Grimstone, Chairman of financial services lobbyists TheCityUk, said "there could be no better recognition of London's status as Europe's financial capital than the appointment of Jonathan Hill as Europe's Financial Services Commissioner".

The pro-Europe group British Influence said it shows "what British influence can really achieve in Europe, almost in spite of ourselves".

The think-tank Open Europe described it as "an important victory for the UK, given that almost everyone ruled out the UK getting a financial services post".

Elsewhere there were concerns. The European Labour Party said "he cannot be Commissioner just for the City of London, but for all citizens, who throughout Europe are still feeling the shockwaves of the global financial crash". Lord Hill should expect some tough questioning when he appears before the European Parliament.

But the new Commission generally was judged to be pro-growth and pro-flexibility.

Watchdog for EU red tape

Poland's Elzbieta Bienkowska - from a liberal pro-trade country - will be Commissioner for the Internal Market.

Sweden, another potential UK ally, gets trade. And the Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans will be Mr Juncker's Number Two and he has responsibility for enforcing subsidiarity - the idea that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate level. He is said to back the view "national where possible, Europe where necessary".

The other key economic post is the economic portfolio with responsibility for the eurozone. Controversially it goes to the former French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici. He will now have the task of ensuring that France sticks to its agreements to reduce its budget deficit. The Germans were initially doubtful about his appointment but softened their opposition.

In any event both Mr Moscovici and Lord Hill will be overseen by powerful new vice-presidents like Jyrki Katainen and Valdis Dombrovskis, politicians from northern states who believe in budgetary discipline.

What we have learnt about Mr Juncker from this is that he is pragmatic and recognises that his Commission will be judged on what happens to growth and jobs. He has also taken the gamble of making a British national responsible for regulating the City of London and a French national for ensuring that countries like France obey the eurozone rules. Interesting!

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