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9th Dec 2022

EU leaders decline to endorse Juncker

  • Van Rompuy is bringing the Belgian coalition negotiator role to the EU level (Photo: Council of European Union)

EU leaders on Tuesday (27 May) tasked council chief Herman Van Rompuy with exploring who could fill top EU posts and gather a majority in the European Parliament, with consultations set to last at least until the end of June.

They ignored a request made earlier in the day by the leaders of the political groups in the European Parliament to task Jean-Claude Juncker with trying to get a majority behind him for the European Commission presidency.

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Juncker – the top candidate of the European People' Party who won the most seats in last week's elections – will be kept in the loop.

"I will hold talks with the new leaders of the groups and of course I will also discuss with Juncker," Van Rompuy said in a press conference after the summit.

The Parliament's new groups and the election of their leaders will take until mid-June, with Van Rompuy set to report back to leaders at a summit on 26-27 June.

Commenting on the leaders' decision, outgoing Socialist group leader Hannes Swoboda tweeted that it's "absurd that Juncker has our backing to start negotiations but is blocked in the Council by his own EPP family!"

Centre-right leaders, including Juncker himself, gathered in Brussels a few hours before the summit to have a "heated discussion" about how to proceed in the negotiations with the Parliament, according to one EU diplomat.

Another EU source told this website that Chancellor Angela Merkel was angry at the European Parliament telling leaders who to appoint as negotiator and insisted that Van Rompuy, not Juncker, do the exploratory talks.

In a press conference after the summit, Merkel was reserved on Juncker and said the EU commission top post is part of a "tableau" of other top posts to be filled. She noted that the centre-right needs the Socialists to have a majority in the Parliament, hinting that at least one of the posts should be offered to them.

The Commission president, the foreign affairs chief and the head of the European Parliament – all top posts for grabs this year – require a vote in the European Parliament. Van Rompuy's successor, the president of the European Council, also needs to be appointed by the end of the year but does not require the Parliament's approval.

Merkel suggested the process may take some time: "Thoroughness comes before speed. We need to ensure that the council and the commission are able to work."

She avoided a clear answer to the question on whether a person other than the top candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) put forward by the EU political parties could be nominated as commission president.

But she suggested that any "automaticity" in this regard could mean a breach of the EU treaty, which doesn't say the commission president has to be a Spitzenkandidat, rather that the result of the EU elections needs to be taken into account when EU leaders nominate him or her.

Merkel also clearly distanced herself from the top candidate of her own political family.

"I am a member of the EPP, we nominated Juncker as our top candidate. The [reformist] agenda can be implemented by him or many others, I don't doubt it," she said.

Asked if the Socialist top candidate, Martin Schulz, who is also a German politician backed by her own coalition partners, could take up the job, Merkel said: "Martin Schulz was a Spitzenkandidat for the EU commission. He lost."

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