Brussels stuck in the doldrums

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November 1 was meant to be a new dawn for the EU. A fresh European Commission would take office and Britain would finally be out of the club.

Instead, a fog of uncertainty hangs over Brussels. The arrival of Ursula von der Leyens Commission is delayed, at least until the start of December, possibly into next year. And Brexit has been postponed again — officially until the end of January, possibly … well, is anyone even willing to guess any more?

When it comes to the Commission, the political limbo means theres no one in power to launch initiatives on pressing issues, ranging from climate change to artificial intelligence. Von der Leyen has unveiled bold plans on many fronts but doesnt yet have the power to even start trying to make them reality. Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Junckers Commission is moving into caretaker mode — charged with keeping things ticking over but not stepping on the toes of its successor.

The interregnum also means EU officials are stuck in career uncertainty, and the citys lobbying community — trade bodies, consultancies and NGOs — are locked in a holding pattern as it waits for new power players to emerge.

Juncker himself spelled out the new reality to his commissioners in black and white.

Some officials and diplomats said the new Commission could have to wait until January 1 or later to enter office.

“As in previous occasions, the powers of the Commission in this situation are limited to dealing with current business (affaires courantes) based on the need to ensure continuity as a caretaker Commission,” he wrote in a letter dated October 25 and obtained by POLITICO.

“During this period, we will continue the day-to-day administration of public affairs in accordance with the rules of the Union and the management of ongoing files or procedures, without preempting the political choices of the upcoming Commission.”

In other words: Were in office, but were not really in power anymore.

Staff have been told to switch into “silent mode” and avoid speaking about future activities, a Commission official said.

European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

One EU diplomat described the current situation as “rather like going through a tunnel” with a “little light at the end.”

That light may be more distant than it appears. Some officials and diplomats said the new Commission could have to wait until January 1 or later to enter office.

At least three commissioner posts have still to be filled, after the European Parliament rejected the original nominees from France, Hungary and Romania. The number of top-level vacancies rises to four if von der Leyen insists on Britain nominating a commissioner, even though London has made clear it does not plan to do so.

Given that the new nominees from France and Hungary — Thierry Breton and Olivér Várhelyi — may face a tough confirmation process and Romania has yet to even nominate a candidate acceptable to von der Leyen, the timeline for a December 1 start looks tight.

If even one nominee runs into confirmation trouble in the Parliament next month, that would throw into doubt plans for the legislature to vote in the week of November 25 to confirm von der Leyens Commission.

The incoming top team is trying to strike a balance between sounding relaxed about the current delay and insisting its important the new Commission kicks off soon.

“The transition team is fully focused both on ensuring that the von der Leyen Commission can take office as quickly as possible, and has the 1st of December as a firm objective to do so,” a spokesperson for the transition team said.

Policy problems

On the policy front, the standstill presents a problem for what is shaping up to be the biggest battle in Brussels in 2020 — over the EUs next seven-year budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

Von der Leyen has presented flagship proposals that were not in the outgoing Commissions budget blueprint and will require significant funding, such as an overarching European Green Deal to get the EU to net-zero emissions by 2050 and specific proposals such as a Just Transition Fund to cushion the move to renewable energy for coal-dependent regions.

Diplomats say that as long as the new Commission is not in office, European leaders cant formally consider how to fund her plans under the blocs 2021-2027 budget. That matters because the current budget runs out at the end of next year, and officials say a new deal has to be agreed well in advance to get new programs up and running at the start of the new term.

Many leaders are hoping to reach an agreement on the EUs finances by early 2020. If the new Commission is not in place and up to speed by the time leaders hold in-depth discussions on the budget in January or February, von der Leyen may struggle to get funding for her signature projects, reducing her chances of making a strong political impact in her new role.

Some officials and diplomats said the new Commission could have to wait until January 1 or later to enter office.

Aware of the challenge she faces, von der Leyen has been trying to shape the budget debate before she even takes office. She traveled to Finland last week to discuss the MFF with Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne, whose government is the current holder of the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.

But until the new Commission takes power, the Council presidency is limited in how much it can help von der Leyen on the budget front, even if it sees eye to eye with her.

Other policy priorities also face delays. Some officials and diplomats said the new Commission could have to wait until January 1 or later to enter office. The 100-day clock will now start ticking later than envisioned.

Its possible that voters will only begin to hear details of new Commission policy proposals a full year after last Mays European Parliament election.

In some policy areas, such as artificial intelligence, officials and other key players are relaxed about having to wait an extra month or two before the new Commission is in office, as long as it gets there within a reasonable period.

European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

For some commissioners, the delay also offers a chance to keep going with projects they have been working on for years and perhaps end their terms on a high. Energy Union Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, for example, now has some extra time to try clinching a new deal governing gas relations between Kyiv and Moscow.

Von der Leyens team argues that its making sure it hits the ground running.

“A lot of preparatory work is already taking place with the support of the [Commissions] services, the transition team spokesperson said, listing meetings with von der Leyens incoming executive vice presidents as well as work on a European Green Deal, digital policy, the seven-year budget and the economy.

The spokesperson said the MFF negotiations between EU governments are “entirely separate” from the start of the new Commission. But the spokesperson added: “The current Commission and president-elect von der Leyen are working hand-in-hand to ensure that the negotiations move forward.”

Career fears

The delay also means some EU careers are on hold, particularly as some incoming commissioners have yet to fill key roles in their Cabinets.

Some officials in the Commissions Berlaymont headquarters “face uncertainty as they want to be in new Cabinets or want to be promoted” but dont yet know whos calling the shots, according to another Commission official.

The official noted that much of the Commissions daily businessRead More – Source

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