Wednesday

26th Jun 2019

Weber under fire as EU leaders hold jobs talks

EU leaders flock to Brussels for a top jobs summit on Tuesday (28 May), with Germany's main candidate under fire by France and Spain.

EU Council president Donald Tusk will start a long day of EU-28 and bilateral meetings by talking to Estonia's prime minister at 12.30PM.

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  • Manfred Weber (second from left) with other EU commission candidates at a pre-election debate (Photo: European Parliament)

The main event will be a leaders' dinner in the evening, designed to lay the ground for decisions on EU appointments at a follow-up summit in late June.

But leaders will also mingle during the day in their political groups to seek compromise on what has always been one of the most delicate and complex of EU negotiations.

The European People's Party (EPP), the EU's centre-right bloc, got the most votes overall in the European Parliament elections and wants German MEP Manfred Weber to be the next European Commission president.

Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party continued to back him on Monday.

"It's clear that he's our lead candidate and he is our man ... we have achieved this goal," CDU chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

"We continue to be the first political force in Europe," a Spanish MEP who is also the EPP secretary general, Antonio Lopez Isturiz White, added.

But liberals and socialists in France and Spain said the fact the EPP had haemorrhaged votes compared to the last EU elections had delegitimised Weber.

The German MEP had been "totally disqualified," Pascal Canfin, a senior MEP from French president Emmanuel Macron's liberal Republic on the Move party, said on Monday.

Macron and Spanish socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez, whose parties both did well in the European election, also met in Paris the same day, prompting speculation on a new liberal-left alliance in Europe to replace the old centre-right and centre-left grand coalition.

"They [Macron and Sanchez] agree that new posts need to reflect the new majority in the European Parliament," Sanchez office said after the talks.

'Monopoly-busting' Vestager

"I have worked with breaking monopolies ... this is also what voters have been doing," Margrethe Vestager, a Danish liberal who is the EU's anti-trust commissioner and who is running against Weber, also said earlier on Sunday.

"The monopoly of power is broken. And this is, of course, why we can do something else [than Weber]," she added.

For its part, the ruling party in Hungary, Fidesz, attacked the German MEP on different grounds.

He had shown "total disrespect towards Hungarians", Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said on Monday, referring to Weber's support for EU sanctions on Fidesz over its abuse of rule of law at home.

The sanctions process was a form of "torture by the European Commission", Szijjarto said.

The European Commission presidency must be filled by 31 October, when the incumbent, Jean-Claude Juncker, steps down.

It is part of a larger basket of senior EU posts, which includes the EU Council and European Parliament (EP) presidencies, EU foreign relations chief, the head of the European Central Bank, as well as strong portfolios in the next commission and committee chairmanships in the next EP.

Weber is meant to get the commission post under the EU's Spitzenkandidat system - allocation of jobs according to EU election performance.

But in reality, the complex talks involve other elements.

Balancing act

These include the issue of succession - the centre-right has held the EU commission post for the past 15 years and the EU Council one for 10.

There is meant to be a balance between northern and southern EU countries and old and newer member states in the west and east.

There is also meant to be a balance between big and small EU countries and in terms of gender, even though there has never been a female EU commission head in the past.

Weber and Vestager aside, Dutch socialist EU commissioner Frans Timmermans has also thrown his hat into the ring.

Other aspirants include: Michel Barnier (the French Brexit negotiator); Kristalina Georgieva (Bulgaria's World Bank chief); Christine Lagarde (the French head of the International Monetary Fund); Dalia Grybauskaite (Lithuania's president); and Mark Rutte (the Dutch prime minister).

Valdis Dombrovskis (Latvia's EU commissioner), Guy Verhofstadt (a leading Belgian liberal MEP), Andrejk Plenkovic (Croatian prime minister), and Josep Borrell (Spanish former foreign minister) are in the running for less senior posts.

Nadia Calvino (Spanish economy minister), Charles Michel (Belgian prime minister), Alexander Stubb (former Finnish leader), and Helle Thorning-Schmidt (former Danish leader) have also been talked about.

German centre-right chancellor Angela Merkel, who is due to step down in Berlin in 2021, has said she was not interested in moving to Brussels.

But she has not loudly endorsed Weber either since the EU election and her dark-horse entry into the European race could throw it wide open.

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