Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

EU leaders push on to break top jobs stalemate

EU leaders are meeting for the third consecutive day in Brussels on Tuesday (2 July) to try to break the stalemate that emerged after several member states firmly rejected Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans as the possible new commission president.

The opposition to Timmermans is so deeply entrenched that Tuesday's summit, scheduled to begin at 11AM was delayed by at least three hours for EU Council chief Donald Tusk to hold bilateral consultations with leaders.

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  • The name of the German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, is suddenly being floated as a compromise EU Commission president - female but EPP (Photo: Wikipedia)

The mutiny among centre-right European People's Party (EPP) leaders against Timmermans continued, despite the most powerful centre-right leader, German chancellor Angela Merkel, supporting the Dutch commissioner.

"We need a solution that unites countries and unites Europe, and not solutions that divides. […] The candidates proposed so far are not having that uniting effect," Latvian premier Arturs Krisjanis Kariņs, and one of the EPP negotiators for the top jobs, said ahead of the summit.

Several eastern European member states, in particular, the Visegrad Four are resisting Timmermans, who as vice-president of the commission fought the governments of Hungary and Poland over their efforts to curb the independence of the judiciary and democratic freedoms.

"We need to find a solution, we have said for 21 hours yesterday that Frans Timmermans is not the right choice for the relationships between the Visegrad Four and the commission. He has criticised us a lot, we have completely different opinions about illegal migration, quotas," Czech prime minister Andrej Babis told reporters.

Leaders from the EPP political alliance want to hold onto the commission top job, arguing that their party family won the most seats in the European Parliament at last month's European elections.

Hungary's premier Viktor Orban claimed in an interview that Merkel went against a previous EPP leaders' decision on Sunday when she supported Timmermans.

He told a pro-government media outlet that the EPP leaders decided to fight for the commission presidency, and not to support Timmermans.

"We're going to work today with new creativity, and I think everyone needs to understand that he and she needs to move," Merkel said ahead of Tuesday's summit - which began on Sunday evening.

The internal EPP clash was criticised by fellow leaders.

"The EPP had a bug yesterday," Luxembourg's Xavier Bettel said, adding: "I hope that they did a reboot overnight and that they can work constructively today so that we can come to a solution."

Strasbourg sitting

The Timmermans proposal had reverberations at the first meeting of the new European Parliament in Strasbourg, where at the EPP group meeting MEPs backed their lead candidate for the commission, Manfred Weber, and said they would not support Timmermans for the commission job.

After the EU leaders' nomination, the EP also needs to vote on the commission president.

However, other EU leaders, such as Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez, stuck firm to a proposed deal to install Timmermans as commission president.

In that original scenario, the EPP would get the EU council presidency - Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva's name has been floated - and the parliament presidency would go to Weber, and liberals would get the EU's foreign affairs chief.

Female option

Tusk held consultations on Tuesday to find a deal, but talks could go in several directions.

Tusk could propose a different commission president, and a new package of EU leaders, or call for a vote.

German media reported that the country's defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen was floated by Tusk to EU leaders, and that this conservative - a Merkel ally - could bridge the gap between the Visegrad Four and the German chancellor.

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, who is also opposed to Timmermans, said he would prefer a woman as the next head of the commission.

Deadline

The 28 leaders are trying to balance political affiliations, the representation of different geographical regions, and a lack of women in senior ranks as they seek to fill the five top jobs coming vacant later this year.

Besides the commission and council presidency, and the EU foreign affairs chief, the European Central Bank will also need a new president this year.

The president of the European Parliament will be voted on Wednesday morning by MEPs.

If EU leaders want to have a say in who the next EP president will be, they have until Tuesday 10PM to decide which is the deadline to submit candidates names.

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