Brussels in Brief: 18 - 22 November 2019

Friday, 22 November, 2019

UK refuses to nominate a Commissioner 

Following the request from Commission president elect Ursula von der Leyen for the UK to nominate a commissioner, the UK government has replied saying it would not be putting forward a candidate before the general election on 12th December due to ‘purdah’ rules. The Commission responded with a letter on 14th November confirming that if the UK did not nominate someone it would be in breach of EU treaty obligations.

The commission has given the UK a deadline of 22nd November to respond and to provide their views on the launched procedure. The justification for the short deadline is that Ursula von der Leyen, wants her new commissioner team in place ready to start on 1st December. Once the UK responds, the Council must then approve the updated list of 27 commissioners before the Parliament can give its consent at their plenary meeting in Strasbourg next week. 


UKTF – UK Task Force replaces Taskforce 50 for EU engagement with UK

This week the ‘Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom’ (UKTF), was set up to replace the former “Taskforce on Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom” or Taskforce 50 for short. The new UKTF merges the former commission Taskforce 50 with the commission no deal preparedness team. In this regard its remit will be to finalise the Article 50 negotiations, to continue the Commissions no deal preparedness work, to oversee the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the future relationship negotiations with the UK. 

The UKTF will be led by Michel Barnier, who in turn will report directly to the Commission president. The UKTF will be the central point for coordinating and managing the EU’s future engagement with the UK, with the relevant commission departments advising and taking part in the negotiations where necessary. 


Agriculture Committee MEPs debate Mercosur and impact on agriculture 

On Monday 11th November the MEPs on the agriculture committee in the European Parliament held a hearing to examine the recently concluded EU: Mercosur agreement and the potential implications for European agriculture. Ahead of the debate BAB wrote to all UK MEPs on the committee with a briefing outlining our position on the agreement and highlighting why we feel the deal is not balanced in the agriculture chapter. We raised concerns about the impact the agreement could have on the sensitive sectors – namely beef, poultry, sugar and ethanol, stressed the need for international trade to respect domestic production standards and highlighted that at a time of great uncertainty for British agriculture it did not make sense to us for the UK to take on any additional commitments via the EU: Mercosur agreement. 

During the debate MEPs across the committee raised concerns about the standards of production in the Mercosur countries and requested that there should be clear country of origin labelling to distinguish products available on the EU market. MEPs also focused on the need for increased checks on exports from Mercosur to the EU and questioned the reliability of the current systems in place. In their response the commission noted that they felt this is not an imbalanced agreement and is in fact ‘modest’ with respect to agriculture. The commission felt the market access offered to Mercosur was manageable for the Union and reminded MEPs of the political commitment made by Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, for a €1bn support package in the event of market disturbance.