Incoming EU chief Ursula von der Leyen says 'we don't want a hard Brexit'

 Von der Leyen (above) said the EU would seek new talks after a new British leader is chosen.
Von der Leyen (above) said the EU would seek new talks after a new British leader is chosen.PHOTO: REUTERS

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.

In an interview with a consortium of European newspapers, including Germany's 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 don't 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 Italy's deficit, von der Leyen said the finance rules enshrined in the EU's 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 Italy's 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."

"We must all learn that the full rule of law is always our goal, but nobody is perfect. On this basis, we can find better solutions."

Poland and other eastern states blocked the another candidate for Commission chief, Dutchman Frans Timmermans, because they considered him too tough on rule of law issues.

In a separate interview with German newspaper Die Welt, von der Leyen vowed to take a tough stance with Russia and maintain sanctions over Moscow's role in eastern Ukraine.

"The Kremlin does not forgive weakness. From a position of strength, we should stick to the Russia sanctions," she said, adding that the EU should, in parallel, seek dialogue with Moscow.