British action risks delaying whole EU Commission again

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BRUSSELS (AP) – Britain’s decision not to name a candidate for the European Commission before the country’s Dec. 12 general election could further delay the forming of incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s team in Brussels.

The European Union confirmed Thursday that British authorities said they will not present a candidate to the bloc’s executive arm, despite its obligation to do so. Dana Spinant, the deputy spokeswoman for the next commission, however, said the U.K. has made clear it wants to cooperate in a constructive manner with the EU “to ensure the commission can be formed as soon as possible.”

After Britain’s envoy to Brussels, Tim Barrow, sent a letter to EU headquarters informing them of London’s decision, the commission is now exploring legal options that would allow von der Leyen’s team to start work on Dec. 1.

The new commission was initially scheduled to take office Nov. 1, which would have been after Britain had been scheduled to leave the bloc on Oct. 31. But European lawmakers rejected three commission candidates from other countries, delaying the process, and the EU agreed to delay Britain’s departure from the bloc until Jan. 31.

“We are currently thinking about the next steps,” Spinant said. “It’s a very special and complex situation, we have not been there before.”

The European Commission, the powerful executive arm of the EU that proposes laws and ensures they are implemented throughout the bloc, should have 28 members, including the president, one representing each EU member country.

But with Britain’s scheduled departure from the bloc, Von der Leyen did not include a British commissioner in her proposed list when she unveiled her team in September. The 27 other states however insisted Britain should come up with a name when they granted the country another Brexit delay last month.

Von der Leyen has since twice written to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding that someone be named. Johnson had previously vowed not to do so.

Asked whether Britain could face sanctions for its refusal to propose a commissioner before the general election, commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva did not exclude the opening of infringement proceedings, without being more specific.

According to Barrow’s office, U.K. authorities “have written to the EU to confirm that pre-election guidance states the U.K. should not normally make nominations for international appointments during this period.”

Richard Corbett, a British member of the EU Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs, said Britain’s stance on the issue will not necessary render the new commission invalid. The proposed commissioners must be approved by the European Parliament, then appointed by the European Council.

“If the commission is approved, it will take office without a U.K. commissioner,” he told The Associated Press. “If it is found to be necessary to have a 28th commissioner, then the option indeed is to nominate somebody else, a second commissioner from another country.”

Meanwhile, the replacements for the rejected candidates from France, Hungary and Romania were grilled by lawmakers assessing whether they are fit for the job.

Thierry Breton, Oliver Várhelyi, and Adina Valean were nominated after France’s initial nominee Sylvie Goulard was rejected last month over allegations she misused EU funds, alongside Rovana Plumb of Romania and Laszlo Trocsanyi of Hungary who were rejected over fears of possible conflicts of interest.

Breton is set to get an important portfolio overseeing the EU’s internal market, industrial policy, defense and the space industry but his bid has raised fears of potential conflicts of interests because of his former role as CEO at Atos, a company with activities including big data management and cybersecurity.

“If you confirm me, I say it loud and clear, the European general interest will be my only compass,” said the former French finance minister, who has resigned from his position and sold off his shares in Atos. He has promised to recuse himself on cases relating to his former company.

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Lorne Cook and Mark Carlson contributed to this report.

European Commissioner designate for Transport Adina Valean listens to a question during her hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
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