in the UK hanging in the air, EU leaders confirmed a “flextension” to January 31, in light of UK internal politics meaning further unacceptable delays for the new Commission. Similarly, the EU Commission, after having reiterated its request for a UK nomination for the next College, launched a formal infringement procedure against the UK. The aim was not that of forcing the UK to provide a name, rather than its readiness to use all legal instruments available to demand the UK’s respect of the EU Treaty’s requirements. With the infringement’s deadline of 22

Despite the current political fragmentation of the EU assembly – where the Commission can no longer rely on a majority coalition of the two mainstream groups (EPP and S&D) only – the final vote in the EP Plenary saw von der Leyen confirmed with a wider margin than Juncker in 2014.

The first 100 days

Firstly, von der Leyen is planning to take a stronger stance on digitalization and tech issues, with her Executive VP Margrethe Vestager fully committed to ensure enforcement of competition laws, Data Protection and close supervision of tech giants operating in the EU. Paired with the strengthened portfolio for the Internal Market overseeing the space and defence industry (assigned to Thierry Breton) von der Leyen wishes therefore to implement her idea of a “Geopolitical Commission”, capable to respond to the growing tensions in international trade and the WTO crisis; to defend and enhance the EU Single Market and prepare it for the consequences of the sweeping green and digital transformations; not least to build consensus for more proactive foreign and defence policies at EU level. Interesting times ahead, with a new global role for the EU? Theories are all over the place. Furthermore, the notable Green abstention

in the 27 November vote, meant to signal their doubts on the effectiveness of von der Leyen’s climate action plans, starts a new interesting phase of negotiations for the ambitious EU Green Deal; something Executive VP Frans Timmermans wanted to be put forward in the first 100 days of the mandate. Finally, given her former status of being

Merkel’s former Minister of Defence and Macron’s choice for the Commission Presidency, von der Leyen might try to help the new Council President Charles Michel in supporting a new effort by Paris and Berlin to overcome the past months of political infighting. A re-invigoration of Franco- German relations; a bond which has so often spearheaded the future of the EU?

Goodbye London?

Let’s go back a bit again and look at the nomination of the new Commission from a Brexit stance. The decision to move forward with a team of 27 Commissioners before the actual concretisation of Brexit was not a light-hearted one. EU leaders and Commission officials had a politically intense October, following Boris Johnson’s last-minute attempts to have his new Brexit approved by the House of Commons and his eventual request for yet another extension. With the announcement of early elections

November expired, and without a nomination from London, the EU27 confirmed their willingness to move ahead with 27 Commissioners. However, risks remain for any new initiative put forward by the new Commission to be challenged on the legality of its constitution, with the EU Court of Justice then being implicitly involved. Nonetheless, it seems that optimism prevails…for the moment. Whoever will introduce this challenge will not be very popular, that’s for sure. Meanwhile, Julian King, former EU Commissioner for the Security Union, bid farewell to Brussels on the UK’s behalf. As the probable last of the UK Commissioners, he admitted leaving his office has been like leaving Saigon, a sad and inevitable defeat for the UK’s relationship with the EU. It will be up to Michel Barnier, as leader of the newly established UK Task Force (UKTF), to keep diplomatic channels between Brussels and London established. The to-do-list is long: a withdrawal agreement still to be signed by the UK; the 2020 transition period to be managed and the rights of EU citizens in the UK to be safeguarded; and, the EU-UK trade- relationship and the post-2020 scenario to be re-defined. Not an easy task, especially considering that the UK general elections of 12 December could change the future UK government approach to Brexit as a whole. Likely? I think not. More of a mess to be expected? I will keep that opinion to myself.

Greetings from Brussels.

DECEMBER 2019 29

VanderWolf Images/Adobe Stock

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