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11th Jul 2020

EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner

  • British prime minister Boris Johnson (c) agreed a deadline for the UK to leave the EU by the end of January 2020 - after first promising Brexit by the end of October 2019 'do or die' (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The United Kingdom has until the end of next week to explain why it will not nominate a commissioner-designate - or face possible sanctions.

The ultimatum issued by the European Commission on Thursday (14 November) follows the flat-out refusal by the British government earlier this week to put forward a commissioner-candidate.

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In a statement, the European Commission said the "UK authorities have until Friday 22 November at the latest to provide their views".

The UK would normally have up to two months to respond but the rushed demand hinges on plans by the incoming new European Commission to launch on the first of December.

The commission's letter sent to London on Thursday is the first step of an infringement procedure that could end up at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

It states that "a member state may not invoke provisions prevailing in its domestic legal system to justify failure to observe obligations arising under Union law."

The legal jargon points to a European Union that appears increasingly frustrated by a United Kingdom whose own domestic political turmoil over Brexit now risks further delaying the formation of the next European Commission.

The Brussels-executive, under president elect Ursula von der Leyen, was already supposed to take office at the start of November.

She first needs a full team of commissioners, one from each of the 28 member states, to launch.

Given the UK has yet to leave the European Union despite being handed repeated extensions, the commission appears to have now run out of patience.

A commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels on Thursday, before the letter was sent, that the intention of the president elect is to have the new college start on the first of December 2019.

"The president elect is working together with all the EU institutions to that end," she said.

Her comments follow the UK's announcement on Wednesday that it cannot nominate anyone due to rules governing the general elections on 12 December.

The UK is set to leave the European Union at the end of January next year.

Objections by the European Parliament over other candidates from France, Hungary and Romania have also held up the launch.

MEPs from the main political parties on Thursday endorsed France's second commission candidate, Thierry Breton, after having previously refused to back Sylvie Goulard given conflicts of interest.

Breton, a former CEO of the software giant Atos, managed to convince most of the MEPs that his work as a future European Commissioner for industry would not overlap with his professional past.

"I sold all my shares", he said and promised to recuse himself on issues that could entail a possible conflict of interest.

Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner

The answers of Romanian's new commissioner-designate for transport, Adina-Ioana Vălean, did not manage to convince MEPs from the Greens group, who will ask her additional questions concerning environment and consumer rights.

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Breton's firm hosted unlawful copy of EU police data

France's Thierry Breton is set to become the next European Commissioner for industrial policy. While he was CEO of IT giant Atos, the firm hosted unlawful partial copies of EU police data on behalf of the United Kingdom.

Von der Leyen warns of tough Brexit talks in 2020

The EU Commission president told MEPs in Strasbourg that time is running out in the expected 11 months available to strike a future trade deal with the UK - negotiations will have to continue into 2021 too.

EU and Britain: 'New momentum' required for deal

British and EU leaders agreed that talks need to intensify to avoid an cliff-edge to the "economic Brexit", but there is little common ground yet in talks on how future relations should look like.

EU warns UK to abide by Brexit political declaration

"No significant progress" has been made on the latest round of talks between the UK and EU on how their relationship should look from January, according to Michel Barnier. The EU told UK to stick to its prior commitments.

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