Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs

  • EPP lead candidate Manfred Weber flies to Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, plus her successor as CDU leader AKK (Photo: European People's Party - Flickr)

The EU Parliament could decide to postpone the election of its new president by 24 hours, in order to give more time for EU leaders to decide on the other top jobs in the European institutions.

The political party group leaders in the parliament will decide on Sunday (30 June), as EU leaders gather for an extra summit in Brussels to agree on a package for the new EU leadership roles, whether to push the vote on their new parliament president to next Wednesday (3 June) - instead of Tuesday - which had earlier served as a benchmark for EU leader to agree on a deal.

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The move comes as backroom discussions and phone-calls between EU capitals intensify on whom to choose to run the EU Commission for the next five years after Jean-Claude Juncker, and who should be president of the EU council, the European Central Bank, and the EU's foreign affairs chief.

The centre-right European People's Party (EPP) German lead candidate, Manfred Weber, does not have majority support in the parliament, and has been rejected by French president Emmanuel Macron.

Macron questions the legitimacy of the so-called 'Spitzenkandidat' (lead candidate) process, whereby the candidate of the biggest party emerging from the European elections should automatically be given the commission president post.

EPP officials have been urging the other political parties not to dismiss the lead candidate process by refusing to back Weber.

But EU leaders last week said neither Weber, nor other lead candidates, Dutch Social Democrat commissioner Frans Timmemans and Danish liberal commissioner Margrethe Vestager have a majority, either.

Weber/Merkel talks

Weber is due to meet with German chancellor Angela Merkel, the EPP president Joseph Daul and Germany's ruling conservative party, CDU chief, Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer in Berlin on Wednesday evening.

The EPP is keen to defy Macron. Officials were outraged last week by what they perceived as a coordinated hostile move from Paris and Madrid against their candidate - failing to back him as the parliament's candidate for the commission job.

Coalition agreement?

Parliamentary party group leaders will meet on Tuesday (25 June) evening to discuss the still outstanding issues in a coalition agreement between the centre-right, the socialists, the liberals and the greens.

There are around 30 issues that need to be resolved on a political level in the document, according to sources, which aims to guide the work of the parliament majority in the next five years. Thematic working groups made up of MEPs have been hammering out the texts for the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, EPP officials warned other parties that a coalition will not happen without the centre-right, even if they do not back Weber. "Nothing will be done without us," said one official, arguing that the S&D group need the EPP to get things done in the parliament.

There is also an effort by the parliament not to let the Spitzenkandidaten process die, which was created just five years ago in an effort to amplify the parliament's weight in the negotiations on top EU jobs.

EPP officials argue that if greens and the socialists don't back Weber at this point, the parliament could lose the lead candidate and devalue the political groups in the parliament.

EU diplomats in the meantime are bracing for an all-nighter extra summit on Sunday.

They expect EU leaders to start discussing the issue first in Osaka, Japan at the G20 summit, and then on Sunday to come up with the new EU leadership in time for the parliament to vote for its president on Wednesday - in line with the leaders' decision on Sunday.

Poker game

The "poker game", as one diplomat called it, could last until Monday morning among leaders.

The EPP is adamant it wants to hold onto the commission presidency (Juncker is also EPP), yet none of the names in circulation - International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde, World Bank chief executive officer Kristalina Georgieva, Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, the prime ministers of Croatia and Ireland, Andrej Plenkovic and Leo Varadkar seems to have the necessary breakthrough momentum.

In the meantime, German national politics also has an impact on how the backroom discussions unfold on choosing the new commission chief.

AKK wants Weber

Merkel's CDU leader, now run by the chancellor's chosen successor, Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer, and the party has suddenly slid behind opposition Greens in several polls this month.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who in December took over from Merkel as CDU party leader, herself slumped 12 percentage points to 24 percent in the Deutschlandtrend poll earlier in June.

The conservative party is also struggling with how to deal with the far-right Alternative for Deutschland, which some CDU lawmakers see as standing up for some of the issues that CDU voters also identify with.

AKK, as the party leader is often referred to, needs a victory, making it difficult for her to abandon Weber.

Weber hails from CDU's sister party, the Bavarian CSU, which under its previous leader Horst Seehofer had developed rocky ties with Merkel, but has since with Markus Soder at its helm repaired its relationship with the AKK-led CDU, and championed Weber as a "Bavarian for Europe".

Those ties can be put under pressure once again if Weber is dropped by the CDU completely.

"The CDU is behind Manfred Weber," Kramp-Karrenbauer told the German magazine, Der Spiegel on Monday.

"The spitzenkandidaten system is a step towards a more democratic Europe, and the European Parliament and the political parties need to think twice about giving up on this process," she added.

EU leaders task Tusk to find commission chief by June

With national leaders and the European Parliament divided over who to put forward for the commission presidency, the EU Council president will now start negotiations with all sides - hoping to come up with an answer by next month.

Agenda

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The 'top job' debate returns on Sunday with a special EU summit, followed by the first session of the new European Parliament. If leaders fail to solve the 'jobs puzzle', MEPs may feel force to choose their parliament president unilaterally.

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A provisional agreement outlining the distribution of committees between political groups has been leaked to EUobserver. It showed the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group would 'get' the legal affairs committee and the agriculture committee.

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