Brexit will become a distant memory as diplomats and officials scramble across the Belgian capital to discover the fate of their country’s nomination for European commissioner. Ms von der Leyen, who is set to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as the EU’s most senior official in November, will reveal what policy areas each of her 26 minnows will manage for the next five years. Despite the UK’s departure from the EU playing a role in her selection process, after Boris Johnson refused to field a British candidate, officials expect Brexit to be put on the back burner until October.
One EU source said: “Instead of tuning into ‘Brexit: the boxset’, you have the whole boxset of the European Commission.
“Everyone is going to be gripped by that in this city. A lot of the attention and political capital will be focused on something completely different for a period – it’s not people obsessing about Brexit.”
John Bercow’s grandstanding resignation as Speaker, the scuffles and singing protests witnessed in the House of Commons last night will simply become the backstop to today’s announcements in Brussels.
Many in Brussels now don’t expect Brexit to feature at the top of the agenda until the end of Parliament’s suspension for the next five weeks.
Ms von der Leyen’s new-look Commission will unveil her ‘college of commissioners’ just after midday.
The German already secured a minor victory by delivering on a promise to deliver a rough gender balance in her top team – with 13 women, including herself, and 14 men nominated.
Candidates still face being grilled by MEPs, who have the power to reject them for the role, in the European at the end of the month.
Until then, speculation will swirl around the Brussels bubble if candidates, particularly Hungary’s Laszlo Trocsanyi and Poland’s Janusz Wojciechowskis, will be rejected by grandstanding MEPs to make a political point.
With Germany and Spain having already been handed senior roles with Ms von der Leyen and Josep Borrell, who will become the EU’s most senior foreign diplomat, other major EU players are still chasing big-ticket positions.
France and Italy are said to be chasing portfolios running the EU’s defence and internal market strategy.
The Netherlands and Denmark look set for their own special Commission roles, with Frans Timmermans and Margrethe Vestager, who were both rejected by EU leaders during marathon talks for the role of president.
Instead they are expected to be gifted powerful executive vice-president positions as a consolation prize, which will only water down Ms von der Leyen’s control over the Commission.
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But most worryingly for the UK, returning Irish eurocrat Phil Hogan is expected to be handed the role of the bloc’s trade negotiator.
This will hand Dublin significant oversight in the next round of Brexit negotiations, as Britain and Brussels decide on the future trade relationship.
It acts as a clear signal that the EU will prioritise the land border between the Republic and Northern Ireland during any future talks with Britain.
Leo Varadkar will welcome the friendly face within the Commission, especially as Mr Hogan has promised to use his powers to help his fellow Fine Gael member.
In a statement last week, Mr Hogan said: “I welcome the prioritisation which the Irish government is giving to preparation for a no-deal Brexit and I urge all businesses which trade with the UK to heed the advice provided.
“The Irish government can be assured that the European Commission will continue to be available to provide any practical assistance that we can.”