Open Europe Blog

Commissioner Callanan?

Themost high profile UK casualty of last week’s European Elections, other than Nick Clegg obviously, was Martin Callanan, the leader of the Conservatives’ European Conservative and Reformist Group (ECR) in the European Parliament. He lost the sole Conservative seat in the North-East of England. This has caused people in Conservative circles, including the influential Conservative Home website, to float the idea that he would be the ideal candidate for the UK’s European Commissioner. Is this true and if so could it happen?

The decision of who will be the next UK Commissioner is ultimately in the gift of David Cameron who has let drop a few hints already. Firstly, we had a job description leaked in a Number 10 memo that said they were looking for a “political heavyweight who speaks another language”. But there were other considerations. Avoiding a by-election, being a ‘eurosceptic’ but not offending Nick Clegg, and above all someone who could communicate the EU reform and referendum policy to the public and Conservative party alike.Some candidates have some of these qualities. The widely tipped Andrew Lansley has cabinet experience and is a big “big beast” in the Conservative Party but does not tick all the boxes, although in Lansley’s case his Cambridgeshire seat is considered safe from UKIP in a by-election, which would be an additional plus.

Callanan is new to the shortlist and is probably not a bookies’ favourite. But he is a popular figure in the Conservative party, particularly among its grass roots, and well known in Brussels where leading the ECR group has given him the knowledge of building alliances and the power-broking needed for the job. In this role he has been through EU budget battles, fisheries reform, negotiating the car CO2 package as well as ensuring the ECR group’s survival. Meanwhile, and crucially in many Conservatives’ eyes, he has not “gone native”. Added to that, Callanan’s background in the North-East is a perfect counterfoil to Nigel Farage’s appeal to disgruntled former Conservative voters outside London. We do not know if he wants the job but he could well be suited for the tricky role of balancing an economic portfolio, pushing a Conservative reform agenda and credibly selling this in the UK.

So does Callanan tick all the boxes? Well he is not yet a household name in the UK, but running a European Parliament group is valued more highly elsewhere in Europe than in the UK – after all, Martin Schulz, the Socialist EP group leader was a serious candidate for the top job of EU Commission President prior to the elections.

Would Nick agree? Since the election result was a disaster for Nick Clegg it might be safe to assume that his ability to block a candidate is reduced, potentially removing one more obstacle.

Will he get it? Most likely not. As the press has already been reporting (including the FT), the post will probably go to Lansley.

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