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DenisBy Dr Denis MacShane (pictured)

Just as the dust settles on the Jean-Claude Juncker farrago David Cameron has a new EU conundrum to solve: Does he send a political street fighter as the UK commissioner or a heavyweight who can command respect in Brussels and help move forward the EU reform agenda?

Put another way, does the prime minister need to appease his Eurosceptic MPs and appeal to UKIP voters by sending someone with a name for denouncing Brussels and all its works? Or does he send a person who can command one of the big Commission jobs and form alliances with other Commissioners to advance a reform agenda?

The third alternative is to just treat the post as many national governments do as compensation for a career that is over in domestic politics and reward party fealty with the pay, perks and pension of an EU Commissioner.

He has plenty of middle rank ministers or ex-ministers some of them dating back to John Major’s time who might be sent.  There are also some peers and it might be appropriate to send a man or a woman from one unelected centre of power in London to another in Brussels.

There are also venerable proven and devout anti-Europeans whose record of hostility to the EU predates the prime minister’s arrival in the Commons.  The trouble is that if he sends one of these veteran Eurosceptics to Brussels there is little chance that the Commission president will reward such a nominee with a decent post.

There are commissioners needed for inter-institutional relations as well as for multilingualism and youth but most of the Eurosceptic names that have been floated are neither multilingual nor young.

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Of course in a perfect world the number of Commissioners would be halved to 14 or even down to the number of cabinet members who run Switzerland – just seven. But that means proud nation-states giving up the right to send a Commissioner to Brussels. Can the UK accept that?  Unlikely so what is sauce for the British goose is sauce for 27 other European ganders.

There are also serious proposals from a small group of former very senior EU officials, now in the private sector who meet secretly as the ‘Friends of the Commision’ who propose creating clusters of directorates under half a dozen senior vice president Commissioners. But that sensible reform requires more political will than is probably to be found.

So which Commission Directorate does London really, really want? It  is often said that completing the single market is Number One priority? So go for the Internal Market post even if more single market means more power to Brussels as by definition the internal market demands less power for national parliaments. Or should it be Competition to whittle away at statist protections? Perhaps  but there is no clear payback to the British economy. How about  Economic and Monetary affairs to protect the City?  But can that in reality go to a non eurozone country especially as more and more countries use the euro or like Denmark are de facto members? 

The main moan from the CBI and other business groups is about social Europe so perhaps the UK should take that Directorate and persuade 27 other member states to accept a watering down of the already symbolic but minimalist EU social provisions.  Or should it be Trade? Peter Mandelson, a  very effective operator, was Trade Commissioner but  could not get movement on Doha.  President Obama is putting no energy at all into the much vaunted transatlantic trade deal, TTIP, and with a new US Congress arriving in November the hopes of a big TTIP breakthrough on trade are not high.

There are Commissioners for the Digital Economy, Energy and Home Affairs – all of which cause tensions, and sometime eruptions in Britain’s internal EU debate.

So Cameron has to get all these factors into equilibrium.  By now team Juncker will have a grid up on the wall. They know some Commissioners will stay for a second term and expect to move up the pecking order. They want more women and cannot keep the able east and south-east Europeans permanently playing third fiddle.
Jonathan Faul, a Brit, is likely to be named the Commission Secretary-General.

That’s useful but he administrates and does not decide. So the choice for Mr Cameron is not easy. A person to please his party or a person who can make a difference in Brussels? Perhaps William Hague could do both, but there are few others on any list produced so far. But the later Downing Street leaves it, the more the best posts will have been taken.
 
Denis MacShane is the former UK minister for Europe.

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