European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s noticeable absence from a key plenary session in Strasbourg that saw Romania’s Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă present the priorities of her country’s turn heading the Presidency to the Council of the European Union unexpectedly came about due to Juncker having to rush back to Brussels amid widespread speculation that he would be meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May for emergency talks after the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by the British House of Commons on January 15.

“Juncker needs to be in Brussels, that is why vice president [of the European Commission Frans] Timmermans is standing in,” said Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici who addressed journalists at the seat of the European Parliament, in Strasbourg.

European Council President Donald Tusk was also not in attendance after having returned to his native Poland to attend the funeral of Paweł Adamowicz, the mayor of Gdansk who was died on January 14 after being fatally stabbed by a right-wing assailant.

“Juncker actually returned to Brussels this afternoon to manage the situation after the vote in the House of Commons,” tweeted the European Commission chief spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas in Spanish, underlining the “importance” of Juncker being available and working in Brussels in the next few hours.

Timmermans will also represent the Commission in the debate with the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Strasbourg on Wednesday, added Schinas.

Dăncilă slams the postponement of Romania’s accession to the Schengen
Brussels’ decision to delay Romania’s accession to the Schengen Zone was the focus of Dăncilă’s sharpest criticism, which she said is regarded as a major insult by Romanians.
“Romanians feel they are being treated unfairly when they see their country being held outside the Schengen area…I would like to thank President Jean-Claude Juncker and President Antonio Tajani on this occasion for their total support for joining the Schengen Area” said Dăncilă, who added, “I have given you these examples from my country to understand that some decisions at European level with regard to some member states ultimately affect the citizens of those countries and in one way or another they determine the confidence that they have to the Union.”