Wednesday

31st Aug 2016

EU summit may decide only on foreign policy chief

  • Leaving the stage: Ashton, who has had little visibility on the Ukraine crisis, is due to step down in November (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Leaders meeting on Wednesday (16 July) are likely to pick only the new EU foreign policy chief, with a decision on the successor to Council head Herman Van Rompuy “possibly” delayed until autumn.

According to one EU source, "if a complete deal is feasible, we should go for it. Otherwise, it will be only the high representative."

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A second source told this website that it is "certainly a possibility" that only the foreign affairs chief is picked.

Both the foreign policy head - Catherine Ashton - and the Council president - Herman Van Rompuy - have five months to go until their terms end. But in the case of the foreign affairs job, the successor also has to undergo hearings in the European Parliament and to be voted together with the rest of the new EU commissioners in October.

At the core of the delay is a disagreement in the Socialist leaders' camp.

France's Francois Hollande is reluctant to endorse Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt for the Van Rompuy job. Thorning-Schmidt is a centre-left politician, but close enough to the centre-right to be acceptable to the likes of Germany’s Angela Merkel or the UK’s David Cameron.

The political colour of one top job will determine the other, as the centre-right and the centre left are dividing the posts evenly.

If Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini, the frontrunner, is appointed foreign policy chief the Council presidency should go to a Prime Minister from the centre-right.

Ireland's Enda Kenny is one of the names being floated. Two Baltic ex-PMs - Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia and Andrus Ansip of Estonia - are also options.

A Baltic choice would mean eastern European states would get a prestigious EU role. But it might not be enough to placate opposition to Mogherini.

A senior source in one of the Baltic capitals told EUobserver on Monday: “We’re not very happy about her and that’s putting it politely. She has little experience overall and no experience of the eastern neighbourhood. We find it hard to understand why she chose to go to Moscow to meet [Russian leader] Putin in her first trip of the Italian [EU] presidency”.

The source added that Poland is “still pushing” for its FM Radek Sikorski, but said this might be designed to block Mogherini rather than to get him in.

The source also said that Kristalina Georgieva, Bulgaria’s EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, is “a good compromise candidate” because she is a woman from the east with a technocratic rather than a political background.

But an EU official familiar with the talks said he "doubts" Georgieva will land the post, while Mogherini is "likely" to get it.

On the table are also the trump commissioner posts - economics, energy, digital agenda, trade. France is pushing for the economics post, while Poland would like to land energy, Britain trade and Germany telecoms.

Wednesday’s EU top jobs talks will come alongside a fresh discussion on how to handle the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko phoned Van Rompuy on Saturday to urge him to adopt a tougher line.

He told Van Rompuy that Putin is sending Russian troops and Russian “heavy military equipment” across the border, amid an escalation in fighting over the weekend.

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