Last week, MEPs on the economic and monetary affairs committee refused to authorise commissioner-designate Hill after a three-hour hearing, on the grounds that they were unsatisfied with his answers on some areas of policy, as well as ongoing concerns about his background as a corporate lobbyist. Instead the committee chose to send Hill a further 23 questions to answer and will re-interview him (tomorrow, Tuesday 7 October).
Among these questions was a request to provide “a complete list of the financial services clients you personally, or the companies in which you held directorships or shares, worked for”. In his reply, Hill refused to provide such a list saying it is “not in my possession”.
Hill is someone who has had no fewer than four trips through the revolving door between UK government politics (always for Conservative party governments) and the lobby/ PR industry. He co-founded Quiller Consultants in 1998 after stints at Bell Pottinger Communications and Lowe Bell Communications. Quiller was taken over by Huntsworth in 2006; Huntsworth also owns Grayling (which has a major EU presence) and Citigate in the UK.
By Hill's own admission, Quiller only joined the (voluntary) UK lobby register in March 2010. This was more than two years after the register had been set up in December 2007. As a result, there is only one entry which covers the time that Hill was working as a director for Quiller: the entry for March-May 2010. This shows that 55 per cent of Quiller's then declared clients (five out of nine) were either banks or finance firms: HSBC, Bank of America, Citadel, Marwyn and Brewin Dolphin.
Brewin Dolphin is one of the largest British investment management and financial planning firms. Citadel is a big US-based hedge fund which also carries out high frequency trading; in 2009, Citadel Investment Group actively lobbied the UK parliament on the Alternative Fund Managers Directive. Meanwhile, Marwyn is a UK based asset management and investment management company which manages 15 funds.
“The City welcomes the appointment of Jonathan Hill as the commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union... Lord Hill’s expertise in this area and knowledge of the City of London will be crucial to ensuring the longevity and stability of Europe’s banking sector...”.
Hill argues that as he has sold his shares in Quiller's parent company Huntsworth that he has no remaining conflicts of interest. He further argues that it is more than four years since he left Quiller and that this is three times as long as departing commissioners have to wait before they take up new jobs related to their former portfolio. Yet the issues at stake here are far from resolved.
Hill clearly has no problem with the revolving door and no problem with lobbyists and public officials enjoying a cosy relationship. It is no wonder he was called the “most senior former lobbyist in Government”.
And appointing Hill would send exactly the wrong signal to an area of EU policy which is already dominated by financial lobbyists. The financial industry spends €120 million per year on lobbying in Brussels and employs more than 1700 lobbyists. The financial industry operates via 700 or more organisations, totally out-numbering civil-society organisations and trade unions by a factor of more than seven.
For example, we can see that the former Quiller clients from Hill's time as a director, Brewin Dolphin and Citadel, both participated in the European Commission's consultation on the review of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) (8 Dec 2010 - 2 February 2011). Citadel is now listed as a lobby client of EU lobby giant Fleishman Hillard.
Quiller was not a paragon of transparency in the period when Hill was director as it did not join the UK's (albeit voluntary) lobby register for over two years after it had been set up. Today, Quiller claims
“We can offer our clients targeted insight into the political world in Westminster, Brussels and the devolved assemblies, as well as help them to manage relations with the political media”.
Despite offering EU lobbying services, the company is not signed up to the EU lobby transparency register.
Hill was quick to sell his shares in Huntsworth when he was appointed commissioner-designate in July, yet he had happily hung onto them in the previous four years when he was a UK government minister, including whilst a cabinet minister and Leader of the House of Lords. During Hill's time as a UK minister (and Huntsworth shareholder), Quiller clients included companies with government contracts including A4e and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. And in 2013, the Daily Telegraph alleged that Hill, while an education minister, had intervened in government policy-making to support plans to sell state school playing fields to Tesco, which had also been a client of Quiller at the time.
Hill was repeatedly asked about his lobbyist background and possible conflicts of interest during his recent hearing. He could have taken the opportunity to commit to having no contact with Huntsworth, Grayling, Quiller and any of its clients in either a professional or private capacity whilst he was commissioner, but did not do so.
The question is, is Jonathan Hill the right choice for an EU commissioner? The answer surely remains no.
You can read our previous articles on Hill here.