EU Hits Snarls in Filling European Commission

BRUSSELS, Belgium (CN) — The start of the new European Commission, slated to open today, will be delayed at least a month, as three commissioners remain unseated.

 European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen smiles as she delivers a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

President-elect Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, was narrowly elected as president of the EU’s governing body in July. She is the first woman to hold the role.

The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union and operates as a cabinet government with a representative from each of the 28 member states. Under EU law, every country must be represented and nations generally put forth a candidate in consultation with the president-elect. Candidates are scrutinized by the legal affairs committee.

This is where the trouble for two of von der Leyen’s commissioners started. In September, Romania’s Rovana Plumb and Hungary’s László Trócsányi were rejected for having conflicts of interest: Plumb for failing to disclose 1 million euros in loans in her financial declaration and Trócsányi for work for a law firm he founded, carried out on behalf of the Hungarian government.

Candidates who pass the legal affairs committee move on to questioning by the parliamentary committees in their fields. Each commissioner is delegated duties in certain areas, such as health or energy. It was at this stage, in October, that the French candidate, Sylvie Goulard, withdrew.

Goulard was tapped to oversee the EU’s internal market but was voted down after two days of intense questioning before the Internal Market and Industry committees. She was criticized for earning 10,000 euros a month at a think tank while working as a member of the European Parliament.

On Monday, von der Leyen gave the nod to France’s Thierry Breton and Hungary’s Olivér Várhelyi as replacements. However, Romania is being overseen by a caretaker government, as Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă lost an October no-confidence vote in the Romanian Parliament.

Dăncilă had a proposed nominee, Victor Negrescu, but was told by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis that she no longer had the authority to nominate him. Opposition leader Ludovic Orban is putting together a coalition government but a parliamentary vote on the proposed coalition will not take place until Monday, Nov. 4.

In the meantime, Brexit is creating another hassle for Von der Leyen. Now that the deadline for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has been delayed again, the U.K. is obligated to send a commissioner to Brussels.

However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in his first speech to parliament as prime minister, said: “We will not nominate a U.K. commissioner for the new commission.”

The European Parliament has scheduled hearings for the three missing commissioners on Nov. 12 and 13. Two weeks later, on Nov. 26 and 27, the EU Parliament is scheduled to meet and could vote on the entire commission, the final step in the nomination process. But that can be done only if the Hungarian and French candidates are approved, a Romanian candidate has been selected and approved and a solution is found for the UK commission seat.

According to Jaume Duch, the European Commission spokesperson, parliament was willing to move forward with a one-month delay.

Delays are not unusual. The commission of Jose Manuel Barroso was twice delayed over rejected commissioners, once in 2004 and once in 2010.

Von der Leyen’s original commission had an even split between men and women, a first in history. But with the replacements, that is no longer the case.

“One thing is for sure: This will be the Commission with the largest proportion of women ever,” she told a crowd at an event in Helsinki, Finland in October.

The commission of Jean-Claude Junker will stay on until the new one is established.

%d bloggers like this: