17th Mar 2018

EU leaders lower expectations of top jobs deal

  • United for the family photo, divided on top posts (Photo: European Union, 2013)

EU leaders heading into a summit to decide on top posts on Wednesday (16 July) lowered expectations of a deal due to diverging views on the foreign affairs chief.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "it can very well be that it's just a first discussion and no decision yet. I am rather sceptical we can agree today."

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An EU official speaking to journalists after the summit began said that "no consensus has emerged so far on a package deal, so our expectations are a bit lower [on a deal] than going into the summit."

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, himself tipped for the EU Council presidency - the other post on the table - noted that there are diverging views even among centre-right leaders on whether there should be a package deal on all posts or just a decision on the foreign policy chief.

"It is uncertain at the moment, because there is a range of views - to some it would be important to appoint the high representative [for foreign affairs] tonight, to others a package is needed. There were intense discussions in the last couple of hours, but I am not sure if progress will be made before midnight," Kenny said.

The crux of the matter is whether Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini, a newcomer to the EU arena, is experienced enough and not too Russia-friendly for the foreign policy job.

Kenny said "there are views about considerable experience being needed for the job and a number of views from the former eastern bloc about the nature of the package to be agreed."

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite spelled it out: for her country to agree to the foreign policy nomination, the person had to fulfil three criteria: "experience, neutrality in the current geopolitical situation, and not being pro-Kremlin."

Mogherini's friendly stance toward Russia is considered a no-go for some eastern member states. For them to block her, however, all 10 eastern European countries would have to vote No - a scenario most diplomats see as unlikely.

Instead, the easterners are pushing either to get the Council presidency, with the names of Estonian former PM Andrus Ansip and Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia being floated. An alternative would be to have someone else as foreign policy chief - Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski or Bulgaria's EU commissioner in charge of humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva, a respected former World Bank official.

One line of reasoning during the early hours of the summit was that if Italy drops Mogherini, it could get the Council presidency for former PM Enrico Letta and a centre-right easterner would become high representative.

Letta would be the second Italian in a high-level EU job however, since the European Central Bank is headed by Mario Draghi, Italy's former central bank chief.

Another Socialist name which had been floated for the Council post is that of Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

But Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt was dismissive of her chances, saying Thorning-Schmidt "has not presented herself as a candidate" and "there are always names floating around."

He added that it is important to agree on the foreign policy chief, who is also a vice-president of the EU commission, because "every one of us [leaders] have to nominate commissioners."

Governments need to put forward names by the end of July in order to fit with the European Parliament's calendar, which has to organise hearings on each commissioner candidate and vote on the whole team in October, when the term of the Barroso commission ends.

A second EU summit might take place next week if leaders fail to agree on Wednesday.

Commission rejects ombudsman criticism over Barroso case

The European Commission repeated that it followed the rules when its former head joined Goldman Sachs - and suggested it will not follow the EU Ombudsman's demand to refer the case back to the ethics committee.

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