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Incoming EU commission hits confirmation roadblock

The new commission, headed by Ursula Von der Leyen, now looks unlikely to be in place by November 1

Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 AP
Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 AP

The next European Commission has made an inauspicious start and now looks unlikely to take office on November 1, as had previously been scheduled.

The commission, headed by president-elect Ursula Von der Leyen, had faced obstacles in the form of the Romanian government collapse and Hungary’s failure to nominate a replacement commissioner.

However, Ms Von der Leyen’s incoming commission has been caught in a quagmire over the European Parliament’s overwhelming rejection of the French nominee Sylvie Goulard on Thursday.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported the rejection of Ms Goulard was a broad rebuke of French president Emmanuel Macron.

Eighty-two MEPs voted against the confirmation of the former defence minister as commissioner for the internal market, industry, defence, space, digital and culture; twenty-nine voted in favour.

Mr Macron had used his clout to push for a large remit for Ms Goulard despite her resignation in June 2017 over allegations she had misused EU funds as an MEP.

She also faced tough questions over her high profile job at a US think tank, for which she apparently did little work.

"I take note of the decision of the European Parliament, with respect for democracy," Ms Goulard wrote on Twitter in response to the defeat. "I thank the President of the Republic and Ursula von der Leyen for their confidence and all the members who voted for me," she added, referring to Mr Macron.

For his part, the French president has appeared dumb-struck by the rejection, explaining Ms Von der Leyen had said she was enthused by the prospect of working with Ms Goulard.

France, Romania and Hungary must submit the names of their new commissioners to the EU parliament before they go through the same confirmation process the other candidates have already faced.

"I don’t see how we can do what we did by October 23," one EU official told Politico, referring to the date needed for the confirmation if the commission is to take office on time.

Ms Von der Leyen seems determined to press on, despite the headwind, to address the various existential issues threatening the 27-member bloc.

“We must not lose sight of what is at stake: The next five years will be decisive for Europe in a difficult global environment. Europe must deal with Brexit, trade issues and conflicts in its immediate neighbourhood. We must also face up to major challenges such as climate change, digitization and migratory flows," she said.

Updated: October 11, 2019 09:52 PM

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