All I want for Christmas is a new Commission
Brussels is always gloomy round mid-November. The rain never seems to end, but this year it feels like the new Commission never seems to start. Despite the initial setback, Hungary, Romania and France have finally put forward their replacement candidates to be commissioners in Von der Leyen’s team.
Surely, nothing’s going to go wrong this time, and the three new candidates should sail through their parliamentary hearings with no surprises, all in time for 1 December?
If all goes to plan, these ‘commissioner-designates’ will be grilled by their respective parliamentary committees on Thursday 14 November, have a final assessment done by Parliament’s Conference of Committee Chairs (the CCC) on 19 November and then schedule a vote on the whole College of Commissioners for 27 November. This incredibly tight schedule, with no room for second hearings or additional written questions, would shift the EU machine into turbo-drive.
Thankfully, ‘the British Question’ can still throw a spanner in the works. Von der Leyen has asked Johnson to put forward a commissioner by a deadline that was in fact two days ago. Yet with rampant Euroscepticism in the British cabinet and a long history of having little to no interest in choosing their commissioners, it’s unlikely that anything will be decided before December.
How would the UK even go about finding a commissioner to replace Sir Julian King? They need to look for an unelected diplomat, who must somehow be party political (even though when King replaced Jonathan Hill post-Brexit vote, he became the first neutral UK Commissioner). Perhaps Britain could just keep him? But King, who is pro-EU and just as comfortable when speaking French over English due to his time as Ambassador to France, is hardly likely to want to continue working under a Johnson government.
The lack of understanding over King’s job, the Commissioner for Security and Defence, may not be resolved quickly. As Britain braces for a Christmas election destined to produce yet another hung parliament, the battle of the ‘Leave vs Remain Alliances’ has produced no campaign literature on what do with the UK Commissioner. Priti Patel, minister in charge of immigration, security and law and order, openly admitted to having never met, spoken to and like most people, even heard of Julian King.
But the tide could yet turn. Around this time last year, in a moment of wincing irony following the rejection of Theresa May’s deal, leading Brexiteer, Nadine Dorries MP, bemoaned the fact that May’s negotiation left the UK following the rules of the EU, but without any British MEPs nor a commissioner. This really begged the question as to how the UK intends to maintain frictionless movement of goods and services between itself and the EU, and thus follow EU rules, yet remove all political representation from Brussels. Perhaps it could follow the Swiss model and just send over an army of lobbyists.
In any case, if the new Commission wants to start work before Christmas, Von der Leyen might have to ask Santa for a UK which finally cares about which commissioner it sends over on the Eurostar.