In the two years since leaving the European Commission, Lord Jonathan Hill has taken up no less than six new professional roles, mostly with multinational companies with active interests in EU and UK policy-making.
Hill’s roles at Swiss bank UBS, insurance giant Aviva plc, Spanish energy company Iberdrola, and accountancy firm Deloitte were never assessed by the European Commission. We know that his UBS position was announced after the expiry of the 18-month notification period during which the Code of Conduct required him to notify the Commission of any proposed new roles. It is not clear when Hill accepted the roles at Deloitte, Aviva Insurance, and Iberdrola.
Since Hill’s departure from the Commission, the rules have changed and the notification period has been extended to two years, but without retrospective application. And while Hill is no longer automatically covered by the rules stipulated in the Code of Conduct, he is still bound by the duty to act with integrity and discretion as per Article 245 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Corporate Europe Observatory has written to President Juncker urging him t0 ensure these roles undergo a thorough conflict of interest assessment by the ethics committee and the College of Commissioners.
Concerns were already raised in March 2017 when Hill was authorised to join lobbying law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, just seven months after leaving the Commission. From the documents released to Corporate Europe Observatory by access to documents requests, it seems that the Commission’s ethics committee identified potential conflicts of interest for this role. At the time, Hill asked to meet with the members of the committee, after which they still identified a serious risk of Hill “passing on or commercially exploiting experience and knowledge” and concluded that “the Committee considers accepting such a general advisory capacity incompatible with the duty of integrity and discretion in so far as financial services clients are concerned".
Nonetheless, the ethics committee cleared the role and the College of Commissioners subsequently approved it but with a set of conditions to ensure it was in line with the European Treaties and the Code of Conduct. It said that for the 18 months notification period, Hill should:
(1) refrain from providing advice to Freshfields' financial services clients;
(2) refrain from providing advice to Freshfields itself or to its non-financial services clients on issues related to the financial services sector;
(3) refrain from any lobbying activity on behalf of Freshfields or its clients with the Commission and its services on matters linked to his former portfolio.
While the ethics committee did not set an end point for these conditions, the letter from the Secretary General to the College of Commissioners regarding the authorisation stipulated they should only apply for 18 months after the end of his public office role.
Previously, Hill had also sought and been granted authorisation to return to the UK's House of Lords, to work for Chartwell Speakers and Literary Agency, and to become Director of the Times Newspaper.
Documents also show that in January 2017 the former Commissioner sought authorisation for a role which he later withdrew. We do not know which role that was.
No authorisation request was found relating to the conference-organising company that he co-founded, Prosperity UK. The role seems to be unpaid yet, according to the Code of Conduct for Commission then in place, all new posts must be notified to the European Commission, even non financial ones.
Jonathan Hill received a transitional allowance from the European Commission until 20 February 2018.
Lord Jonathan Hill joined President Juncker’s Commission as the UK's Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union in 2014 and remained in the position until July 2016. There he was in charge of financial regulation and oversight in the newly created directorate for financial regulation (DG FISMA). Hill handed in his resignation from the Commission two days after the Brexit referendum result. His official last day was 15 July 2016.
Hill’s appointment to the financial portfolio was mired in controversy. The former Commissioner faced waves of criticism from civil society, including from Corporate Europe Observatory, and MEPs, for his past as a corporate lobbyist and his connections to the financial industry. By the time he was named Commissioner, Hill had already spun through the revolving door between UK Conservative governments and the lobby industry four times.
He had been a special adviser to UK minister Kenneth Clarke (1986-89), and had then moved on to Lowe Bell Communications (1989-91). His first return to politics would lead him to advise the Conservative Prime Minister John Major (1991-94). From there, he went on to work at Bell Pottinger Communications (1994-98) and then co-founded the lobby firm Quiller Consultants in 1998. In 2006 Quiller was taken over by Huntsworth which also owns Grayling, a lobby firm with a major EU presence, and Citigate Dewe Rogerson in the UK. Hill worked as a lobbyist until becoming a UK minister in 2010; he held shares in Huntsworth until 2014, at which point he sold them when he was nominated as an EU Commissioner.
At the time of his Commission confirmation hearings in 2014, Hill was in deep water with MEPs when he refused to reveal the list of clients he and his companies had worked for, arguing “The information on financial services clients in the past that you request is not in my possession.”
However, Quiller’s 2010 entry in the UK’s industry-run lobby register (page 69) showed that 55 per cent of its then clients were either banks or finance firms: HSBC, Bank of America, Citadel, Marwyn, and Brewin Dolphin. (Quiller joined the EU Transparency Register on February 2016 but doesn’t declare any clients).
MEPs ultimately approved Hill’s appointment as Commissioner after a second hearing. This increased scrutiny did not make Hill extra cautious in his lobbying interactions. Indeed, as a Commissioner he held what must be a record-breaking number of lobby meetings: in his less than two years in office, Hill held a total of 185 lobby encounters, a higher number than Commissioners Creţu, Hahn, Mogherini, Avramopoulos, Mimica, Vestager, and Stylianides had combined over two and a half years!
Not only did Hill have more lobby meetings than many other Commissioners, most of them (87 per cent at least) were with business interests, a higher percentage than any other Juncker Commissioner. He regularly met with actors such as Goldman Sachs, the London Stock Exchange Group, the Investment Association, and Barclays, among other financial industry players (data checked on Integritywatch.eu).
Life after Brexit
After leaving the Commission, Hill soon returned to his seat in the UK’s House of Lords where he has actively participated in discussions around the European Union Withdrawal Bill.
In September 2016, Hill sought authorisation to join Chartwell Speakers and Literary Agency, which was granted. His biography on the website says: “Having been both a European Commissioner and a Cabinet Minister, Jonathan (Lord Hill of Oareford) offers a unique perspective on the Brexit negotiations. As the former Commissioner for financial services, he also understands the implications of Brexit for business.”
Since then, Hill has listed 18 paid speaking events in his declaration of financial interests for the House of Lords, all with the financial industry. Stand-outs include insurers Aviva, JP Morgan, and the European Fund and Asset Management Association (EFAMA).
In December 2016 (date of incorporation), Hill co-founded Prosperity UK, an event-organising company, with investment manager Paul Marshall. According to its website, Prosperity UK seeks to “encourage leaders from business, universities and policy-making to look constructively at Britain's future outside the European Union”.
The company has an advisory board that includes members of think tanks Open Europe and the Legatum Institute, university chancelors, and representatives of industry, mostly from the financial sector such as Blackrock, Santander, and Barclays. Despite doing this during his notification period, Hill does not seem to have sought authorisation for this role, a requirement according to the Code of Conduct in place then, even for non-paid roles. In 2018, Hill became an unpaid director of Prosperity UK.
In the meantime, Hill has apparently kept contact with at least some members of the European Commission. According to an access to documents response, Hill met Vice-President Dombrovsksis of the Commission on 9 February 2017.
Freshfields Bruckhauser Deringer
On the day Article 50 was triggered on 29 March 2017 – thus starting the negotiations for the UK to leave the EU – the Commission announced it had authorised Hill to take up employment at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, a lobbying law firm that is active both in the UK and the EU.
The law firm is registered as an EU lobby actor and declares spending between €200,000 - €299,999 in the year to April 2017 on lobbying the EU institutions. Its entry describes itself as “a global law firm with a track record in successfully supporting the world's leading national and multinational corporations, financial institutions and investors”.
Freshfields is known for its work for the financial industry: a lot of the policy portfolios it has an interest in were previously under the responsibility of Hill (ie Capital Markets Union, Solvency II, MiFiD II). Its biggest client is the London Stock Exchange Group which was also one of the companies that held the most meetings (at least four) with Hill while he was in office.
According to The Guardian, Hill was to "advise the firm and its clients on Brexit-related matters”. The paper also reported that Edward Braham, a senior partner as Freshfields, had told them: “We have shown significant strength as a firm with regards to Brexit-related issues, and Jonathan’s contributions, while respecting his obligations, can only enhance our reputation and our efforts.”
Freshfield has indeed invested heavily in offering services around Brexit. According to its website, Freshfield’s Brexit services include “advising multinational corporations and financial institutions on a wide range of issues flowing from the UK’s vote to leave the European Union”. This involves providing advice on policy-making processes, but also directly lobbying the institutions on behalf of its clients. Access to documents requests show that Freshfields has arranged and participated in at least two meetings with the EU’s Brexit task force: on 19 September 2017 on behalf of Lloyds of London, and another on 6 March 2018, on behalf of the Kroll Bond Rating Agency.
According to the authorisation request documents which Corporate Europe Observatory has seen, Hill originally told the Commission that he was to provide “general political and economic advice to the firm and its clients in the UK, and worldwide”. He clarified he would not provide advice to any financial services client on EU financial services legislation. This was not enough for the Ethics Committee, which identified a real risk of conflicts of interest. While it ultimately cleared the role, they stipulated a condition that to keep in line with the European Treaties and the Code of Conduct, Hill was to not provide advice to financial services clients, or to provide advice to Freshfields itself or its non-financial services clients on issues related to the financial services sector. He was also to keep his commitment to not lobby.
Corporate Europe Observatory considers that the Committee was right to be concerned and that the conditions indicated the serious threat of conflicts of interest. Given so many caveats, it is unclear how Hill would still be able to provide Brexit advice to the firm at all, if he had actually followed the conditions. Corporate Europe Observatory believes this role should not have been authorised at all.
Deloitte, Aviva, Iberdrola
Since the Freshfields announcement, Hill has not sought authorisation for any other roles. His notification period ended on 16 January 2018.
The former Commissioner’s declaration of financial interests for the House of Lords reveals that since then, Hill has become a member of the International Panel of Experts for Iberdrola, one of Spain’s biggest energy companies, as well as a senior adviser to Deloitte, a Big Four accounting firm.
Perhaps the most glaring overlap with Hill’s previous portfolio is another of his new roles as senior adviser to insurance company Aviva, which has an EU lobby budget of at least €500,000 and a keen interest in the Capital Markets Union and other financial services packages.
Oddly, there is no information about Hill’s roles with these companies on their websites. We have contacted the former Commissioner for further information but have not received a reply.
Swiss bank UBS
On 29 May 2018 news broke that Swiss wealth management and investment bank UBS had hired Hill as a senior adviser. According to reports, Hill was to provide advice to UBS’ corporate clients, once again focusing on Brexit.
The Swiss bank has a serious lobby footprint in Brussels. In 2017, it declared spending at least €1,250,000 on lobbying the EU institutions and while it does not detail which specific issues it is interested in, records of meetings show it lobbied Hill directly while he was in the Commission, on the topics of the Capital Markets Union and other parts of the financial reform. Now it seems to be interested in whether Switzerland will be labelled as a tax non-compliant country, and the digitisation of banking.
Javier Oficialdegui, Head of UBS Investment Bank’s corporate client solutions (CCS) for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, stated in an internal memo seen by journalists that UBS was “really pleased to have someone with Lord Hill’s record and standing in Europe to join the firm” to “offer richer advice in relation to Brexit and the wider political and economic environment to our CCS clients”.
Oficialdegui also praised Hill’s “experience in both Brussels and the UK” which he thinks enable Hill to “speak with authority on the challenges and opportunities for business arising from recent political and economic developments in Europe.” We do not know which clients Hill will be advising.
The Financial Times has highlighted how UBS has “a sizeable corporate and investment banking division” but had to be rescued by the Swiss Government during the financial crisis and was one of the banks fined “for misconduct including rigging of Libor interest rates, manipulating the foreign exchange market and helping clients to dodge the taxman”.
Hill’s jobs at Iberdrola, Aviva, Deloitte, and UBS seem to have been accepted after the end of his 18 month notification period. However, they were all accepted less than 24 months after his departure from the Commission. In February 2018 new rules for ex-Commissioners were adopted that extend the notification period to two years, but they will not be applied to Hill.
Green MEP Molly Scott Cato told Corporate Europe Observatory that:
'Lord Hill's lucrative new employment at Swiss Bank UBS is an example of the worst sort of revolving door in action. He has moved almost instantly from being the law-maker to a player in the field he was previously regulating. When this happens citizens are right to see a glaring conflict of interest and the failure to keep a proper distance between policy-makers and industry undermines confidence in the democratic process. This is why we believe the cooling off period for outgoing Commissioners should be extended from 18 months currently to at least 3 years.'
Hill is joining a long trend of former UK officials hired specifically to advise corporations on the Brexit process. These include UK former ministers such as William Hague who joined Citigroup’s Brexit client transition unit, Francis Maude joined Covington & Burling, former Chancellor George Osborne joined Blackrock to advise on, among other things, “European politics”, and David Cameron’s former press chief Sir Craig Oliver moved on to lobby firm Teneo. The list goes on.
This has also happened on the EU side, with the most notorious example being former President Barroso who told the Financial Times he was to advise Goldman Sachs on Brexit, although he later recanted those comments.
Hill's moves through the revolving door also reflect the findings of a recent report by Yiorgos Vassalos and Corporate Europe Observatory which shows the problem is endemic. It reports a dizzying number of former Commissioners who have moved straight into the financial industry, including Charlie McCreevy, who went on to work for the Bank of New York Mellon and financial firms such as Sentenial Ltd, World Spreads, and Celsius Funds plc; Neelie Kroes who joined Bank of America Merryl Lynch; Karel De Gucht who moved to Merit Capital; Gunter Verheugen who joined Royal Bank of Scotland and Fleishman-Hillard; Benita Ferrero-Waldner who moved to Munich Re (insurance); and Meglena Kuneva who took up a role with BNP Paribas.
"Jonathan Hill’s lengthy list of new roles illustrates how companies are jumping at the opportunity of hiring former UK and EU insiders to help guide them through, and shape, the Brexit process. This creates a situation where those with the resources are able to recruit ex-insiders, and likely gain an advantage in the lobby stakes.
Hill brings to these companies a wealth of know-how, high-level connections, and authority that only ex-insiders can boast of.
Hill’s jobs also highlight the loopholes and weaknesses in EU rules for ex-Commissioners. In Corporate Europe Observatory’s view, his job at lobbying law firm Freshfields should never had been authorised at all.
Hills’ role at UBS match so closely his former portfolio that even though it was accepted after Hill’s notification period, it creates a real reputational risk for the Commission and threatens the duty of ex-Commissioners to act with integrity and discretion as per Article 245 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). More clarity is also needed on his relationship with Iberdrola, Deloitte, and particularly, Aviva.
Corporate Europe Observatory is calling on the Commission to step up and send these roles for an urgent assessment by the Ethics Committee."