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New EU Commission vice president for industry an encouraging sign – Cefic

July 3, 2019
Chemical Value Chain

EU chemicals’ historic demand for a greater focus on industrial policy at the top of the EU institutions may be closer as the new Commission to be chosen after the summer will include a vice president for industry, the director general at trade group Cefic said on Wednesday.

After a three-day summit, EU leaders chose candidates for the top EU jobs, although the Commission’s President still needs to be ratified by the European Parliament (EP).

The three key institutions within the EU are the Commission, the EP, and the Council, which comprises the 28 national governments.

The European Commission is the EU’s executive body, responsible for proposing legislation and implementing decisions.

Germany’s current Defence minister Ursula Von der Leyen has been tipped as the Commission’s next President, succeeding Jean-Claude Juncker.

However, the unexpected appointment has prompted criticism from the Social Democrats and the Greens in the EP. Her appointment’s ratification will be subject to EP hearings after the summer recess.

While their names had been tipped as potential Presidents, current vice president Frans Timmermans and commissioner for competition Margrethe Vestager would be appointed vice presidents, with Timmermans having industrial policy as his focus.

“While it is still unconfirmed, the indications are that there will be two vice presidents, with one of them focused in industry. We have been asking for this for a while, so it is a very positive sign that the next Commission will have industrial policy at its core,” said Cefic’s director general Marco Mensink.

“We are happy with the proposal for Von der Leyen to be the Commission’s President. She is an experienced politician in Germany, and the EU right now needs leadership to tackle the several challenges ahead.

“Now that the leadership issue has been resolved, we need to get going.”

Mensink pointed to several, urgent challenges the new Commission will face after the summer, including Brexit – the UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October – as well as the need to have a strong voice in the world amid trade conflicts or a slowing economy.

Mensink conceded that the new EP after the May elections is set to have a greener approach.

Although the Greens gained seats in the new Parliament, Cefic’s DG said the most important aspect is how the other big political groups – Social Democrats, Liberals and even the Conservatives – are adopting green policies as their own.

“The discussions on circularity economy will continue to be at the core – we acknowledge that and we want to be part of the solution,” said Mensink, pictured.

Mensink dismissed the idea that greener policies are per se bad for industrial players, and pointed to the good collaboration between green governments in some of Germany’s states and companies within the industrial space.

“There is a challenge though: the EU is at a different speed compared to the rest of the world when it comes to circular economy. However, I believe we’ll be able to manage the competitive disadvantages that arise. We have been working on how to address these issues on our Mid-Century Vision.”

However, the new Commission’s full confirmation may only come towards the end of October or even November, said Mensink, potentially coinciding with the expected UK exit from the 28-country bloc.

Mensink would not answer questions about how feasible a new extension would be – after the first extension granted in March – as the UK continues embroiled in the political crisis caused by the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May in May.

With May as acting Prime Minister, and August being practically an idled month due to the summer recess across Europe, the inconclusive Brexit would have to be finalised in a record time of two months.

The UK Parliament has rejected May’s Withdrawal Agreement three times, the ultimate cause of her resignation. As her Conservative party chooses new leader, the process is for now on hold.

The front runner to succeed May is Boris Johnson, a popular politician among Conservatives in the UK who was the Foreign Office secretary under May, following his two terms as mayor of London.

He has promised to take the UK out of the EU with or without Withdrawal Agreement by the set date of 31 October.

“As of now, everything is completely unclear. Everyone is watching what a Johnson premiership would mean for Brexit. But the situation remains very unclear,” said Mensink.

“The EU has been clearer, insisting the current Withdrawal Agreement is the deal on the table and it cannot be renegotiated.”

By Jonathan Lopez

Source: ICIS News

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