Saturday

21st Jan 2017

EU leaders meet on top jobs, Ukraine

  • Tusk (l): Leaders are to discuss top jobs, and crises in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, and Gaza (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels on Saturday (30 August) to clinch a deal on two top posts and to discuss further sanctions on Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine.

The summit will start at 5pm local time after leaders earlier in the afternoon will gather in their respective political families.

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Brussels-based diplomats on Friday were indicating that a deal is emerging for Polish prime minister Donald Tusk to become the next EU Council chief once Herman Van Rompuy steps down in November and for Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini to succeed Catherine Ashton as foreign affairs chief.

A spokeswoman for the Polish government on Friday broke the silence Tusk had kept so far about the EU post.

"European leaders are increasingly strongly persuading Donald Tusk to assume the post of president of the European Council," Polish government spokeswoman Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska told Reuters.

"The prime minister is treating this proposal very seriously, analysing its consequences for Poland, its security, especially in light of the Ukraine crisis," she added.

But several EU diplomats told this website on Friday afternoon that the deal is not "quite sealed yet" as other names are still being floated - such as Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt for the council job and Radek Sikorski for the foreign affairs post.

EU leaders have "had time to digest" the possible name combinations for six weeks, since a failed attempt in July to agree on the two nominations, however.

"They are basically cooking with the same ingredients as in July, I have not heard of any new names," one EU diplomat noted.

Back in July, the 41-year old Italian foreign minister faced a wall of opposition from eastern member states who consider her too Russia-friendly and too inexperienced for the job. Tusk at the time said he wants to stay in national politics and France insisted on having the top economics portfolio in the new EU commission.

Having a leader from a non-eurozone country (neither Poland nor Denmark are euro-members) was also considered a problem for the Council presidency, which at the moment also includes the chairmanship of summits of eurozone leaders-only.

Van Rompuy, as a former Belgian prime minister, does come from a euro state.

The past few weeks have seen the political weather change.

Eastern member states are now more happy for Tusk to "counter-balance" Mogherini and Tusk's non-eurozone status is no longer seen as a handicap because "as president of the Council, the person no longer represents his or her country," several diplomats said.

In addition, France has indicated it could accept another economics-related portfolio, given that Germany has signalled a clear opposition for the bloc's deficit and debt referee to come from France, a financial profligate.

Ukraine and the Islamic State

Once the top jobs decision is taken, EU leaders will hear from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko about the latest developments after this week's Russian military incursion into Ukrainian territory.

Leaders will then discuss what kind of further sanctions would be appropriate, with several countries - notably France, Hungary, and Slovakia - already indicating little appetite for more economic measures.

The likely outcome is for the council to task the EU diplomatic service and the EU commission with drafting new proposals. But diplomats expect this round of sanctions to take longer than the ones adopted in the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which killed 298 people, mostly EU citizens.

Also on the summit agenda are the developments in Syria and Iraq where the Islamic State (IS) is gaining ground and a high number of EU citizens have joined the radical militias who kill anyone who does not convert to Islam.

On Friday, the UK raised its terror alert to 'severe', the second-highest of five possible alerts, warning of the likelihood of British jihadists returning from Syria to plot attacks.

British PM David Cameron said at least 500 people had travelled from the UK to fight in Syria and Iraq.

He said IS extremists, who are attempting to establish a "caliphate", represent a "greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before."

"We could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a Nato member," he warned.

EU leaders will also look at the situation in Gaza, where thousands of people were recently killed and injured in Israel's military operation.

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