Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

EU top jobs summit could drag on for days

  • Time is running out on EU leaders to agree on the bloc's top jobs. (Photo: Wikipedia)

A deal on the EU top jobs remains far from reach ahead of a special summit on Thursday (19 November) that could require a follow-up meeting the next day.

"There are still some days to go. I wouldn't say it's a complete mess, but there's no agreement still," Swedish minister for EU affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said during a press conference on Monday.

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EU leaders are set to convene on Thursday for an 'early' working dinner starting at 6pm Brussels time to reach a political consensus on the top three posts created by the Lisbon Treaty once it comes into force on 1 December. The decision will be formalised by so-called written procedure on 1 December, by the member states' ambassadors in Brussels.

First is the permanent president of the Council, who will chair all the EU summits and be a more constant presence on the international stage on behalf of the 27 member states. The UK is still officially pressing for former PM Tony Blair for the job, while Belgian Prime Minister Hermann van Rompuy is said to have the support of other big member states such as Germany and France. Eastern candidates for the job are Estonian President Toomas Ilves and former Latvian head of state Vaira Vika-Freiberga.

But an agreement on the president cannot be reached until there is also a deal on the future top foreign policy job. This post is more complicated, as the candidate will also need to pass a grilling in the European Parliament along with the other EU commissioners in early January.

People in the frame for the job range from British foreign secretary David Miliband, who strongly denies he is a candidate, to Italian former PM Massimo D'Alema, who could be blocked by Poland for his Communist past and by Germany for his lukewarm backing of Israel. Mr Ilves also threw his hat into the ring for the foreign policy job, while Greece has touted education minister Anna Diamantopoulou as a candidate for the position.

The third job up for grabs is that of a top civil servant overseeing the EU Council, the Brussels-based institution that prepares the day-to-day meetings of EU ministers and diplomats. The current deputy secretary general of the Council, Pierre de Boissieu, a French diplomat, is tipped to get the job, if all the other pieces fall into place.

Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt is to continue his phone consultations with EU leaders but will take a break the following day when he is due to host an EU-Russia summit in Stockholm.

"If the situation should appear that there is no decision on Thursday, it is up to the presidency to evaluate the situation," Ms Malmstrom said, replying to a question whether the summit could be extended until Friday afternoon. "There's Friday and there's Saturday and Sunday. Or to take a break [on Thursday night] and reconvene [on Friday]. But the aim is to reach a conclusion on Thursday night."

Ms Malmstrom said there were very few women among the names discussed for the top jobs, despite calls from some female commissioners and other prominent figures to have more feminine leadership in Europe.

Her colleague, Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden, said among all the considerations - the political, geographical and gender balance, there was "also an issue of competence that should not be entirely forgotten."

Mr Bildt said some of the names mentioned in the press were true candidates, others were "self-generated spin, as often happens."

This was a "defining period for Europe in the world," he added, warning that any delays on the names and on the other novelties introduced by the Lisbon Treaty would have a negative impact on the EU's reputation.

Civil society groups criticise the lack of transparency in the nomination process. "EU citizens have the right to be informed and not be fed pure speculation," Jana Mittermaier, head of Transparency International's Brussels office told EUobserver.

"We urge EU decision-makers to disclose the procedure and the full scope of the positions in order to determine whether candidates' qualifications match the necessary criteria," she said.

Poland recalibrates its interview proposals

Meanwhile, Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski fine-tuned his paper on interviews for the top jobs, after Mr Reinfeldt made ironic remarks illustrating how no acting prime minister could openly admit to be a candidate unless he was sure to get the job.

Mr Sikorski, who is said to have acted without the proper consent of his prime minister when tabling the first proposals, now wants only the top diplomat candidates to be formally announced and to face job interview-type hearings.

"The presidency has a point," Mr Sikorski admitted on Monday, "that it's awkward for a president [or PM] to come forward as a candidate, if that damages him at home."

"But these objections don't apply to the high representative. The crown won't fall off the head of a foreign minister, if he presents his vision in the forum of leaders and heads of state," he argued, while stressing that Poland was not putting forward its own candidate for the job.

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