October 31, 2019 / 1:07 PM / a month ago

Brexit, Romanian politics risk extending EU policymaking vacuum

BUCHAREST/BRUSSELS, Oct 31 (Reuters) - The machinations of Brexit and a political tug-of-war in Bucharest risk extending a policymaking vacuum in the European Union beyond the start of December.

The new European Commission team under German conservative Ursula von der Leyen had been due to take over as the bloc’s executive on Nov. 1.

That start date was pushed back by a month after the European Parliament rejected the Romanian, Hungarian and French candidates.

The Commission comprises one representative from each member state and it holds powers including negotiating international trade deals, policing members states’ finances and proposing bloc-wide laws on a range of topics including the environment and migration.

The outgoing Commission under Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker is no longer active in policymaking.

Paris and Budapest have since put forward alternatives. Aides to Romania’s incoming Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said he would name his country’s new candidate right after his proposed government passes a parliamentary confidence vote due on Monday.

“A proposal for commissioner will be submitted very quickly after Monday’s vote of confidence. European lawmakers Adina Valean and Siegfried Muresan are the names discussed,” said one national lawmaker from Orban’s centrist National Liberal Party (PNL).

Valean and Muresan are both Romania’s European parliamentarians and sit with the centre-right European People’s Party, the legislature’s largest faction.

That makes them both viable candidates, but should Orban lose the confidence vote, Romania’s centrist President Klaus Iohannis would have to nominate a new premier from the liberal party, likely further delaying Romania’s Commission pick.

“Whoever is coming from Romania as a candidate must be acceptable to the president as well, and must get through the European Parliament too,” Commission spokesman Mina Andreeva told a news conference on Thursday.

Paris has proposed Atos head Thierry Breton to lead industrial policy files at the European Commission and Budapest promoted its current EU ambassador Oliver Varhelyi to the enlargement post.

They will go through individual hearings in the European Parliament in the week of Nov.18-24, before the chamber is due to vote on approving the entire new Commission on Nov.27.

With other EU capitals having agreed to again delay Britain’s EU departure, this time until the end of January, von der Leyen has demanded that London pick a candidate too.

Britain has not yet taken a public stance on the matter.

“We are now discussing with legal services, the European Council (of EU countries) and our British counterparts the different legal options to deal with this situation and to start (the new commission) on Dec. 1,” an EU official said.

While a delay is not unprecedented - a previous Commission of Portugal’s Jose Manuel Barroso was only able to get going in February - it is a negative development for the EU as it impedes the new executive’s power to shape policies for the bloc. (Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by John Stonestreet)

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