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Britain and France secure EU’s top economic jobs

September 10, 2014

BRUSSELS (AP) — Britain and France have secured two top positions on economic and financial policy-making in the new European Commission as the 28-nation bloc’s executive arm seeks to revive anemic growth and fight unemployment.

Former French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, who has long criticized EU-mandated austerity policies and called for a more growth-friendly stance instead, will be the new Economics Commissioner, whose responsibility includes policing member states’ budgets.

Britain, which has become increasingly euroskeptical and has vowed to renegotiate the terms of its membership, won another important portfolio. Jonathan Hill, the former House of Lords leader, will be in charge of regulating the EU’s financial services, which is one of Britain’s key industries.

The Commission’s President-elect, Jean-Claude Juncker, presented the new line-up Wednesday in Brussels, vowing that his commission will work to kick-start growth, reduce bureaucracy and restore people’s faith in the EU. Juncker’s team is due to take over in November.

The nominees will undergo confirmation hearings at the European Parliament over the coming weeks. Lawmakers cannot reject specific commissioners, but could block the entire cabinet.

Moscovici’s nomination to the top economics job attracted some criticism, not least from hawkish Germany, because France during his tenure as finance minister failed to live up to the very EU-mandated deficit rules that he will now be policing for the entire bloc. In an irony of timing, France announced Wednesday that it won’t manage to bring its budget deficit under the tolerated ceiling of 3 percent of gross domestic product through 2016.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “strict spending discipline” remains necessary.

The unemployment rate in the 18-nation eurozone is still a high 11.5 percent, while GDP rose only a meagerly 0.2 percent in the second quarter.

In other moves announced in Brussels, Denmark’s former economy minister Margrethe Vestager will become the bloc’s powerful antitrust chief. Sweden’s Cecilia Malmstroem, currently the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner, will be in charge of trade, overseeing also the negotiations on free trade agreements like the one currently under way with the United States.

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Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed reporting.

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Follow Juergen Baetz on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz

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