The EU on Tuesday named top British diplomat Julian King to the new post of security commissioner tasked with fighting terrorism, organised and cyber crime as London prepares to quit the 28-nation bloc.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said King, currently Britain’s ambassador to France, takes office as Europe faces up to a series of deadly terror attacks, most recently in France and Germany.
“You will be the Commissioner for the Security Union,” Juncker said in his mission letter to King, sending his nomination to the European Parliament for approval.
“Repeated… terrorist attacks have underlined the importance and urgency of making swift progress towards an operational and effective Security Union,” Juncker said in the letter released by his office.
The new commissioner will help implement what is known as the European Agenda on Security that the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, adopted in April last year.
The five-year programme, adopted after the deadly jihadist attacks in Paris against the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket, is aimed at not just tackling terrorism but also organised crime and cyber crime.
IS has claimed responsibility for the bloodshed as well as several subsequent attacks in France, Germany and Belgium that have cost more than 200 lives and wounded hundreds more.
Juncker late Monday informed Britain’s new prime minister Theresa May of his choice.
May replaced David Cameron who resigned following the shock June 23 vote for Britain to leave the EU.
King’s predecessor Jonathan Hill, who held the key financial affairs portfolio, also stepped down after the referendum.
That left Juncker with the delicate task of finding a replacement as London and Brussels jostle for advantage ahead of what promise to be difficult and complex Brexit talks.
The negotiations will last two years once London triggers the talks by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, a move May has said will likely come early next year.
– ‘Foreign fighters threat’ –
There are 28 seats on the Commission, one for each of the member states.
King is an experienced diplomat who has also held posts in Brussels, New York, Paris, Luxembourg, The Hague and Lisbon.
Crucially, King worked at the European Commission in 2008 and 2009 where he was chief of staff to Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and later to foreign affairs supremo Catherine Ashton, both British officials.
Hill’s highly sensitive financial services portfolio is now being shared between Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis, the commission vice president for the euro, and Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici of France.
In Britain, a spokesperson for the prime minister welcomed the portfolio decision.
“The UK will continue to fulfil our rights and obligations as a member state until we leave the EU and the Prime Minister has been clear that we will be an active player so it is right that we should continue to have a Commissioner role,” the spokesperson said.
“Security is a vital issue for all member states and co-operation across the EU can help to better protect us all from the range of threats we face.”
King’s nomination requires the approval of the European Parliament, where nominees must face a gruelling hearing with MEPs, as well as the green light of the EU’s member states.
Juncker said King will work with EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to identify “where the EU can make a real difference in fighting terrorism.”
That includes measures to tackle the “threat posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters,” jihadists of European nationality who have gone to fight with IS in Syria and Iraq.
He will be tasked with improving information and intelligence sharing, including efforts to upgrade Europolâs European Counter-Terrorism Centre.
King will also work closely with other commissioners, including those who work on justice, education and sport as well as the digital economy, to ensure the broadest cooperation.