The European Commission has launched a formal infringement procedure against the UK over its failure to nominate a Commissioner, in the latest sign of increasing frustration between Brussels and London.
In a statement on Thursday (14 November), the Commission said that it “considers that the UK is in breach of its EU Treaty obligations”. The UK government has a 22 November deadline to respond. Fines are the ultimate sanction for member states breaching their EU treaty obligations.
Both the appointment and its timing will make little practical difference to the functioning of the EU executive – the new Commission will not take office until 1 December at the earliest, and the UK is due to leave the bloc on 31 January – and the infringement notice only underscores the increasing bitterness between London and Brussels.
The UK’s permanent representative to the EU, Tim Barrow, sent a letter to Ursula von der Leyen’s office on Wednesday night in which he confirmed that owing to the UK’s election campaign purdah rules, it would not be nominating a candidate before the country’s general election on 12 December.
Earlier on Thursday, Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant told reporters that, having received the letter, the EU executive was considering “all options”.
“It’s a very special and complex situation,” she added.
“The UK recognises its obligations as a member state and states clearly that it does not wish to stop the EU from proceeding with the formation of a new commission. The aim of President-elect von der Leyen remains to … take office on 1 December,” said Spinant.
The goal appears unlikely, with MEPs set to force Hungary’s nominee Olivér Várhelyi to reply to a lengthy file of written questions before making a final decision on whether to accept his candidacy.
The infringement procedure by Brussels should not, however, come as a complete surprise.
The European Council’s decision on 28 October, which formally agreed to give the UK a three-month extension to the Brexit process, stated that the UK “cannot be allowed to undermine the regular functioning of the Union and its institutions”.
Having called the election after UK lawmakers refused to pass his Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and meet a previous 31 October exit deadline, Boris Johnson’s government would prefer to re-nominate Sir Julian King, the UK’s current Commissioner.
However, von der Leyen has urged the UK to nominate a woman in a bid to ensure gender balance in the Commission.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]