European Commission Moves to Fill Vacancies Amid Delay

BRUSSELS (CN) – Already delayed by a month, President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission took a step forward Tuesday with the initial approval of three commissioners.

European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech at the start of the Paris Peace Forum on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs held an extraordinary meeting and gave the green light to the three remaining candidates.

The committee looked at the financial declarations of Thierry Breton of France, Oliver Várhelyi of Hungary and Adina Valean of Romania to ensure they don’t have any conflicts of interest with serving in the executive branch of the European Union.

The European Commission operates as a cabinet government with a representative from each of the 28 EU 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.

Both Hungary and Romania’s first nominations to the Commission were rejected by the committee: Hungary’s László Trócsányi for connections to a law firm that worked for the Hungarian government and Romania’s Rovana Plumb for failing to disclose 1 million euros in loans.

Following approval from the legal affairs committee, candidates move on to questioning by the parliamentary committees in their fields. Each commissioner has delegated duties in certain areas, such as health or energy.

France’s first choice, Sylvie Goulard, was slated to head up the EU’s internal market, but she was rejected by the internal market and industry committees for her work at a think tank, which paid her 10,000 euros per month while she was also working as a member of the European Parliament.

On Thursday, Breton, the former French finance minister, will face both committees. He is currently the CEO of French IT multinational Atos.

At the same time on Thursday, Várhelyi, who is currently the Hungarian ambassador to the EU, will face questions from the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs. If approved, he will serve as the commissioner for enlargement, responsible for the accession process of any new member states as well as relations with nations that border EU states.

Also on Thursday, Valean, a Romanian member of the European Parliament, will answer questions before the Committee on Transport and Tourism. She’s been tapped as the commissioner for transport.

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.

Her Commission will still be down one member: a representative of the United Kingdom. While EU law requires every country to be represented, the U.K. had not put forth a candidate because it had been scheduled to leave the bloc this year. However, it is now obligated to do so because Brexit has been delayed until January.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that “the UK meets its legal obligations, and our officials remain in regular contact with the president-elect’s team.”

Johnson himself had told the U.K. Parliament in July that he would “under no circumstances” nominate a new commissioner.

If all three candidates are approved on Thursday and a solution is found for the U.K., the European Parliament will vote on the full commission on Nov. 27.

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