Sunday 18 August 2019

Frontrunner for EU chief Ursula von der Leyen says she'll back a Brexit extension

Leading candidate also sets out stall on taxing tech giants and gender equality in corporate boardrooms

Manifesto: Ursula von der Leyen has set out her position in letters to the two main power blocs in the European Parliament. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Manifesto: Ursula von der Leyen has set out her position in letters to the two main power blocs in the European Parliament. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The frontrunner to become the next European Commission president has said she will support an extension to the Brexit deadline, provided there's "good reasons" for it to happen.

Ursula von der Leyen has also outlined how she will ensure the taxation of tech giants is a "priority" and push for gender equality in Europe's corporate boardrooms.

Her openness to an extension of the Brexit deadline of October 31 was welcomed in Government circles but her remarks on tax can be interpreted as renewing pressure on Ireland's corporate tax regime.

Ms Von der Leyen outlined what she termed a "snapshot" of her position on a range of issues in letters to two of the biggest blocs in the parliament - the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, and the Renew Europe Group.

The letters are part of a bid to shore up support for her candidacy ahead of what's expected to be a close European parliament vote today whether or not she should be the next commission president.

Boris Johnson - the leading contender to replace Theresa May as British prime minister - has in recent days reiterated his intention to lead the UK out of the EU on October 31 with or without a Brexit deal.

Mairead McGuinness: Not concerned at taxation move. Photo: PA
Mairead McGuinness: Not concerned at taxation move. Photo: PA

Both he and his Conservative Party leadership rival Jeremy Hunt have suggested the Withdrawal Agreement struck between Mrs May and the EU can be renegotiated, something EU leaders have ruled out.

Ms Von der Leyen effectively reaffirms this position, saying the current agreement "is the best and only deal possible".

She also writes that she very much regrets the UK is leaving the EU, but adds: "I fully respect this decision."

Ms Von der Leyen warns that Brexit creates uncertainty for the stability and peace on the island of Ireland.

She promises that if elected, she aims to "pave the way to the ambitious and strategic partnership" with the UK.

And Ms Von der Leyen adds: "Should more time be required, and should there be good reasons provided, I will support a further extension."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has previously suggested that another extension can only happen if there is a general election in the UK or a second referendum on Brexit.

A Government source welcomed Mr Von der Leyen's openness to an extension, saying it "chimes with the space we're in." However, they questioned whether the next British prime minister would seek one, pointing to the rhetoric in the Conservative leadership race, particularly from Mr Johnson. The source said: "The reality of the situation is any extension will start with the British asking for it."

Separately, in her letter to the Socialists, Mr Von der Leyen says she "will ensure that taxation of big tech companies is a priority".

She writes that a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) is a long-standing project of the European Parliament and adds: "I will fight to make it a reality."

The Government has resisted the CCCTB project. It involves calculating every company's tax bill based on the same rules, regardless of where they are in Europe.

The 12.5pc corporation tax rate here would remain, but the rules for assessing what profits the rate is levied on would be set in Brussels.

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness last night insisted she was "not overly concerned" over Ms Von der Leyen's comments on CCCTB.

She said: "Taxation is a member state competence and any changes at EU level can only be made through unanimity."

Ms Von der Leyen also says gender balance quotas on company boards are needed to "break the glass ceiling".

Irish Independent

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