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Von der Leyen: UK must pick new Commissioner if it remains in EU after October

Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Finnish PM Antti Rinne discussed Brexit in Helsinki.

Pääministeri Antti Rinne ja EU-komission tuleva puheenjohtaja Ursula von der Leyen tapasivat Kesärannassa Helsingissä 24. lokakuuta
Antti Rinne and Ursula von der Leyen at Kesäranta, the Prime Minister's official residence, on 24 October. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Brexit was high on the agenda as incoming European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen held talks with Finland's Prime Minister Antti Rinne in Helsinki on Thursday.

Von der Leyen said London must propose a candidate for a seat in the next European Commission if it stays in the EU after October 31. That could further delay the inauguration of her executive, which was supposed to take office just over a week from now.

It remains unclear just when Britain would leave the EU. Last weekend Prime Minister Boris Johnson reluctantly asked for a three-month extension of the 31 October deadline.

Although Finland now chairs the European Council, Rinne said he had not yet directly discussed a possible Brexit extension with Council President Donald Tusk.

Asked if another EU summit in Brussels will be necessary to decide on the issue, Rinne said he believed a decision could be reached through a written procedure.

"If the extension means that we can avoid a hard Brexit, it suits me," said Rinne, adding that "a majority or maybe all member states are behind an extension".

At least three commissioners still missing

The inauguration of the new Commission, which was to take place on 1 November, will also likely be delayed.

It is now expected to begin its five-year term a month later. The executive is still missing commissioners from France, Hungary, Romania – and possibly the UK.

While the final line-up is not yet certain, von der Leyen said "it is already clear that this Commission will include the largest proportion of women ever".

Another piece appeared to fall into place earlier on Thursday as President Emmanuel Macron named a new French candidate for a major Commission portfolio covering industrial policy, defence spending, high-tech and space.

Macron proposed former economy minister Thierry Breton to replace previous French candidate Sylvie Goulard, who was rejected by the European Parliament. In a statement, Macron indicated that von der Leyen had already approved Breton as the new candidate.

With the long-term European budget framework looming as the Commission's biggest challenge besides Brexit, von der Leyen said that "the European Green Deal is priority number one, along with digitalisation".

She said the Commission will work to advance green financing and other measures to show that "climate-neutral production is possible in a fair way".

Climate talks in Sweden next week

The climate crisis will also top the agenda in Stockholm next week. Additionally on Thursday, the government announced that Rinne will lead a ministerial delegation to the Nordic Council meeting that begins there on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and four other cabinet ministers will accompany the PM for two days of talks in the Swedish capital, where the main theme will be efforts to slow climate change.

Meanwhile Rinne also announced that the five government parties will convene for a conference on the same theme in January.

The centre-left government has placed the climate as a key priority for both its legislative term and for Finland's six-month presidency of the European Council, which wraps up in just over two months from now – but environmental groups say there has so far been little concrete progress on either agenda.

11:20 Corrected spelling of name in headline

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