Incoming EU chief von der Leyen says ‘we don’t want a hard Brexit’

BERLIN (Reuters) – The future head of the European Commission said she would be minded to grant Britain an extension to talks on its exit from the EU if London gave good grounds, adding that an orderly departure was important to launch future ties on a good footing.

FILE PHOTO: German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has been nominated as European Commission President, briefs the media after the Conference of Presidents of European Parliament's party blocs in Brussels, Belgium, July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

In an interview with a consortium of European newspapers, including Germanys Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Ursula von der Leyen said the European Union would first wait for a new British prime minister to be chosen and then seek talks.

“We dont want a hard Brexit. That is not good for either side. We have a good exit agreement,” she said, referring to a deal that has been rejected by both candidates to succeed British Prime Minister Theresa May.

The three-year Brexit crisis is deepening as Boris Johnson, the favourite to win the premiership, has pledged to leave the EU with or without a transition deal on Oct. 31, setting Britain on a collision course with the bloc and his own parliament.

British lawmakers on Thursday approved proposals to make it harder for the next prime minister to force through a no-deal Brexit by suspending parliament, showing again their resolve to stop a divorce from the EU without an agreement.

Von der Leyen said: “If our British friends have good grounds for an extension, I am open to listening to them.”

Turning to Italys deficit, von der Leyen said the finance rules enshrined in the EUs Stability and Growth Pact had to be respected, but added: “There is much flexibility in the rulebook that can be used more fully to enable investment-led growth.”

“That is one of the steps we could take together,” she said, offering a change in tone after months of bitter talks between Brussels and Rome over Italys public finances. “We must take the heated emotion out of the debates.”

Italy cut its 2019 budget deficit target earlier this month in an effort to avoid EU disciplinary action over its public finances, saying the revised data meant the country was fully compliant with EU rules.

On the rule of law in Poland and Hungary, von der Leyen said “we want monitoring for all member states to avoid the impression that part of Europe fundamentally regards the others critically.”

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