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By Gabriela Baczynska
HELSINKI, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Britain will have to propose a candidate for a commissioner in the next European Commission if it is still a member of the European Union after Oct. 31, incoming Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.
The EU executive of Jean-Claude Juncker is due to end its five-year term on Oct 31, the same day that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised his country would be leaving the bloc.
Britain’s departure date now seems almost certain to be put back, while a postponement of one month to the start of the new Commission is almost certain because it is still missing commissioners from France, Hungary and Romania. Under EU law, each of the EU’s 28 countries including Britain must have one commissioner.
Britain did not propose a candidate for commissioner when the other 27 EU countries did because Johnson was adamant his country would no longer be a member of the EU in November.
He was then forced by his own parliament to ask for a delay to Brexit until Jan. 31, throwing back open the question of Britain proposing a member of the EU executive.
“If after the 1st of November - and there are still steps to take, so that is not a given - there might be an extension and the UK will still be in the EU, then of course I would ask the UK to send a Commissioner,” von der Leyen told reporters on a visit to Finland.
She said the EU had to consider whether to grant Britain an extension, a discussion she said “looks really good”, and if so for how long.
Ante Rinne, prime minister of Finland which now holds the rotating presidency of the bloc, said “maybe all” EU countries backed an extension for London.
Von der Leyen said she would soon invite the French candidate for commissioner, Thierry Breton, for an interview to discuss the EU’s single market and digital agenda — a portfolio he would likely be given if he passes a hearing in the European Parliament.
She said she hoped Romania would pick a Commission candidate “within the next days” but added that she did not specifically request the Romanian candidate be a woman.
The issue of the Commission’s gender balance has been high on von der Leyen’s agenda.
But her goal of an equal number of men and women there was scuppered by the European Parliament when it rejected France’s first candidate, Sylvie Goulard, after grilling her over a jobs scandal and her previous work for a think-tank. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Hugh Lawson)