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Britain wants economic job for new EU commissioner

Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he would push for Britain to get one of the EU's top economic jobs as he defended his choice of a relative unknown to be the country's next European commissioner.

LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he would push for Britain to get one of the EU's top economic jobs as he defended his choice of a relative unknown to be the country's next European commissioner.

Cameron caused puzzlement in Brussels on Tuesday by nominating Jonathan Hill, the leader of the House of Lords or upper chamber of parliament, to be Britain's man on the EU's executive bloc.

But as he answered questions in parliament before heading to Brussels for a European Union summit where leaders will haggle over the jobs, Cameron said he still hoped that Britain would win a major portfolio.

"I think there is opportunity to make sure that Britain has an important portfolio, one where we can maximise our influence in the areas that we care about most," Cameron told lawmakers.

"And those are areas to do with our economy, and we will work very hard to do that."

Cameron has vowed to win reforms of the European Union before holding an in-out referendum on EU membership in 2017, provided that he wins a general election next year.

The political calculus in Britain has been that Cameron should get some compensation, in terms of a portfolio, for his failed bid to stop former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker becoming head of the European Commission.

Cameron insisted Hill would be up to a major position, saying that Catherine Ashton, the EU's outgoing foreign affairs chief, was also leader of the House of Lords before she went to Brussels.

"I think that Lord Hill... will do a very good job for our country," he said.

Cameron named Hill on the same day as he carried out a major shake-up of his ministers, notably replacing foreign secretary William Hague with Philip Hammond, who has said he would vote for Britain to leave the EU unless it takes back more powers from Brussels.

Michael Fallon, who replaces Hammond as defence secretary, said the newly eurosceptic cabinet reflects the increasing prevalence of anti-EU feelings in the country.

"It's certainly a eurosceptic cabinet, but the country is eurosceptic now," Fallon said.

He told BBC radio: "We think Europe has been on the wrong lines and you have seen a prime minister prepared now to veto things coming from Europe, who has achieved a budget cut for the first time ever and he is promoting reform in Europe."

Fallon said the government also wanted to persuade voters not to turn to the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), which many lawmakers fear could take seats from the Conservatives at the election.

Opinion polls have shown varying levels for support for Britain's EU membership.

The latest YouGov poll released Tuesday shows that 41 per cent of Britons would vote to remain in the EU and 38 per cent to leave on the current terms, while 52 per cent would vote to stay and 25 per cent to leave if the terms were renegotiated.

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