The European Commission said on Thursday it was initiating infringement proceedings against the UK, hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to nominate a British candidate as an EU commissioner.
“As the Guardian of the Treaties, the European Commission has today sent a letter of formal notice to the United Kingdom for breaching its EU Treaty obligations by not suggesting a candidate for the post of EU Commissioner,” the Commission said in a statement.
It added that London had time until next Friday, November 22, to respond.
The short deadline is necessary to allow the commission’s president-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, to take office as soon as possible, the Commission said.
A lengthy legal procedure
Von der Leyen has twice asked the UK to nominate someone since Brexit was delayed to January 31. But London said it does not intend to nominate a candidate for the Commission before the UK’s upcoming general election, set to take place on December 12.
“We have written to the EU to confirm that preelection guidance states the UK should not normally make nominations for international appointments during this period,” said a UK official on Thursday. It means that current UK commissioner Julian King may be the UK’s final European commissioner.
The new European Commission was initially scheduled to take office on November 1, but it’s now expected to happen on December 1.
The EU draws one commissioner from each member state to make up a 28-person executive. However, the UK’s planned exit from the EU — initially scheduled for completion in March, long before new commissioners would take office — complicates this model. Before long, the EU will need a 27-person model with a different system of rotation.
Von der Leyen has had legal advice that she will not be breaking the law by assembling her team without a UK commissioner.
Sending a letter of formal notice is the first step in a lengthy legal procedure if the Commission deems a member state to be in contravention of EU rules. In the final stages of an infringement procedure the EU Commission can refer such a case to the bloc’s highest court, which can in turn impose financial penalties.
Again, this process could be cut short by the UK leaving the EU, something currently scheduled to take place by the end of January.
sri, ed/msh (dpa, AFP)