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EU's competition chief says there's nothing wrong in delaying Brexit

Key Points
  • Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said Tuesday that it's more and more likely by the day that the U.K. will leave in an abrupt way without any transition phase.
  • At the moment, the U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU on April 12 and will be the first country to leave the bloc.
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EU's Vestager: I don't see a risk in prolonging Brexit

Britain should be allowed to delay its official Brexit departure date again so it can think carefully about its future, the EU's competition chief told CNBC.

"I don't see a risk in prolonging the departure (from the European Union)," Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition said Tuesday in an exclusive interview in Brussels.

"If you need to reconsider how the Brexit referendum should be respected; what would be the preferred U.K. choices, I don't see a risk in a prolongation … I think it's never a risk to think twice and to sleep on it then sometimes you wake up and you reconsider," she said.

The process to take the U.K. officially out of the European Union began two years ago, but has yet to be finalized. U.K. parliamentarians have so far rejected the deal that Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the EU three times.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said Tuesday that it's more and more likely by the day that the U.K. will leave in an abrupt way without any transition phase.

"This is a serious crisis and no-one can be pleased with what is happening in the U.K. currently," he said at an event in Brussels.

At the moment, the U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU on April 12 and will be the first country to leave the bloc. However, Prime Minister Theresa May said Tuesday she is going to ask for another short extension, until May 22, as she seeks to find a way forward with the country's opposition party.

VIDEO3:4303:43
EU's Vestager: Will defend European firms facing unfair competition

When asked about where the EU may have failed in keeping all of its members, Vestager said Brussels needs to keep integrating its members even after they have joined.

"I think we spend a lot of time integrating member states in the European Union. But maybe we underestimated the importance of integrating the European Union in member states," the Danish politician said.

She urged national politicians, who gather in Brussels often and have a say in European policymaking, to help their citizens feel that they are part of the EU. "You can don't, sort of, the passion that this is ours, this is our democracy just as well as us the national democracy."

European elections

Vestager is one of the liberal candidates in the race for the next presidency of the European Commission — the EU's executive body.

With European parliamentary elections scheduled for late May, a new team of commissioners is due to arrive in Brussels in the fall and a new president will replace Jean-Claude Juncker.

VIDEO5:1805:18
What is the EU?

Vestager has challenged the idea that it will be solely down to the European Parliament — the EU's legislative body — to say who will be the next Commission chief.

"We have sort of two sources of legitimacy, the directly-elected representatives in parliament and ministers and heads of state of governments in the European Council. And the two will have to decide together. Not one, not the other, but together," she said.

There are two schools of thought in Europe regarding these types of decisions. One, led by Europe's parliamentarians, are supportive of the spitzenkandidat (the leading candidate) process – which states the party with the most votes in the elections chooses the next European Commission president. And a second school of thought which says the heads of state have the final say on the appointment. Vestager says it will be a combination of the two, which could increase her chances of being selected — given that her political group is unlikely to be the most voted for.

"It's a dynamic process where a number of things will come into consideration," she added.

Irrespective of who leads the Commission next, Vestager said the top priorities should be climate change, cybersecurity and job prospects for the next generation.