European Commission on Track to Start in December

European Commissioner candidate Oliver Varhelyi of Hungary answers questions during his hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS (CN) – With another member approved Monday, European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen is set to begin the new session of her executive body next month.

Members of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs approved Hungary’s Oliver Várhelyi on Monday, satisfied with the written answers he provided to questions posed last week.

The start date of von der Leyen as the president of the European Union’s executive branch has already been pushed back a month to Dec. 1, after three of her commissioner candidates were rejected during the selection process. A former German defense minister, von der Leyen is the first woman to hold the role after her narrow election in July.

All 28 EU member states must be represented on the European Commission, which operates as a cabinet government.

France, Hungary, and Romania were all required to field second candidates. France’s Thierry Breton and Romania’s Adina Valean were accepted last week after each being questioned for three hours by their relevant parliamentary committees. Commissions are given areas of responsibility by the president-elect.

Várhelyi, who also faced his committee last week, was asked to answer further questions in writing, in particular about his relationship with his home nation of Hungary.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been at odds with the EU in recent years over the rule of law and the refugee crisis.

“I will neither be bound nor influenced by any statement or position of any prime minister of any country or any other representatives of any government,” Várhelyi wrote in response to one of the five questions posed to him.

Várhelyi 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.

Breton will head up the EU’s internal market, while Valean has been tapped as the commissioner for transport.

The next plenary session of the European Parliament is scheduled for Nov. 27 and the entire commission could be voted in then. However, the United Kingdom has so far refused to put forth a commissioner in light of its pending withdrawal from the EU early next year.

The European Commission has launched an infringement proceeding against Britain after the British ambassador to the EU wrote a letter saying the country would not nominate a commissioner until after national elections on Dec. 12.

The British government has until Friday to respond to the Commission’s investigation.

The European Parliament is expected to approve the new Commission next week, and EU member states could allow an executive body of 27 governments to proceed without Britain’s involvement.

The U.K. is slated to leave the EU on Jan. 31, 2020, following the Brexit referendum vote three years ago. The exit has been delayed several times because lawmakers can’t agree on a withdrawal deal.

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