November 18, 2019 / 4:34 PM / 18 days ago

EU lawmakers OK Hungarian candidate, opening way to new Commission launch

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament on Monday accepted Hungary’s candidate for commissioner in the new European Union executive arm, removing a key obstacle to the launch of the new Commission on Dec. 1, a month later than planned.

FILE PHOTO: A European flag is seen outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The parliament, which under EU law can reject the make-up of the new Commission as a whole if it objects to individual commissioners, had earlier forced changes of candidates from France, Hungary and Romania.

New candidates put forward by Paris and Bucharest passed hearings in the European Parliament last week, but deputies asked the Hungarian to answer additional questions in writing by Monday before they would endorse him.

Parliament spokesman Jaume Duch said on Twitter that party grouping chiefs had now recommended the approval of Commissioner-designate Oliver Varhelyi.

The new EU executive, which can propose binding laws in all 27 countries of the European Union after Britain leaves, had been due to start on Nov. 1, but the rejection of the three candidates made that impossible.

New Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said there was now a clear window of opportunity for the executive of President Ursula von der Leyen to take office at the start of December.

“The objective of the president-elect is, more than ever, to have her team at work on Dec. 1,” she said.

The European Parliament is expected to endorse the entire Commission in a vote on Nov. 27.

The launch of the new Commission, which will steer EU policy for the next five years, will untie its hands to make decisions on competition policy and international trade, which are the sole responsibility of the EU executive.

Some EU officials believe that Britain’s refusal to put forward a proposed commissioner even though it is still an EU member might put the new Commission in legal difficulty as EU law stipulates there should be one commissioner per EU country.

Britain is due to leave the EU at the end of January.

Certain decisions could in theory be challenged on this legal technicality, although a decision by EU governments to allow a commission of only 27 could remove that threat.

Britain refused to name a candidate for a British commissioner earlier this month, saying it could not make international appointments in the run-up to its general election on Dec. 12.

Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop/Mark Heinrich

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