Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

EU leaders task Tusk to find commission chief by June

  • EU Parliament president Antonio Tajani and EU Council president Donald Tusk (r) at the informal dinner. They want to avoid 'inter-institutional conflict' (Photo: Council of the European Union)

European heads of government on Tuesday (28 May) asked EU Council president Donald Tusk to consult with the European Parliament and national leaders to come up with names for the key EU institutions - after Sunday's election results left the EU without a clear majority for any political force or figure.

Leaders gathered in Brussels for the informal meeting to discuss the elections results, and talk about who to nominate to the top EU institutions, and crucially, the EU's executive, the European Commission.

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They agreed to mandate Tusk with coming up with possible candidates for the presidencies of the EU Commission, the European Council, the European Central banks and the EU's foreign affairs representative.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said after the meeting that Tusk would have a coordinating role, with two national leaders each from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the Social Democrats and the liberals acting as negotiators.

She added that the EPP put forward Croatian premier Andrej Plenkovic, and the Latvian PM Krisajanis Karins, the socialists will be represented Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez, and Portugal premier Antonio Costa, while the liberal leaders will be represented by the Belgian and Dutch premiers, Charles Michel and Mark Rutte.

Leaders will discuss the possible names at their summit at the end of June.

Before the meeting the European parliament reiterated that leaders should pick a lead candidate from one of the European parties that can master a majority, while heads of government arrived in Brussels divided over whether they should go along with the parliament's candidate.

Tusk reiterated that leaders will not automatically nominate a lead candidate from the European party families, but "nobody can be excluded" and that being a lead candidate is "not a disqualification" - referring to Manfred Weber, the centre-right EPP lead candidate.

Weber is backed by Merkel, and EPP leaders, but is rejected by the French president Emmanuel Macron, whose liberal allies in the European parliament prefer Danish commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

"We did not discuss names tonight, only the process," Tusk told reporters after the meeting, adding that he is ready to meet with parliamentary group leaders "as soon as they are ready".

"No-one is interested in an inter-institutional conflict," the council chief said, referring to a possible prolonged political battle between the council and parliament on how and who to nominate for the commission top job.

"The future president of the commission must have the support of both [institutions]," he said.

Merkel warning

Merkel also warned "not open new wounds", as the leaders and the parliament will have to work together, for instance in adopting the new long-term budget for the EU.

Tusk said he would seek to find the balance between geography, country size, gender and political affiliation, but he warned it will be difficult to find a perfect balance.

On his way out of the meeting, Macron reiterated his opposition to Weber, referring to his lack of executive experience, saying his priority is to have a candidate who has the most experience, competence, and legitimacy.

"We talk about the European Commission first of all, which the greatest executive power of Europe, so one must know what an executive power is, and have the ability to do it," he said.

Merkel reiterated that she stood by Weber. In a nod to Macron's argument, she argued that five years ago EU parliament president Martin Schulz was nominated by the socialists, but he also lacked executive experience.

'Brexit vaccine'

The EU leaders also applauded the high turnout at the European elections last Sunday, which at 50.5 percent was the largest in 25 years, Tusk said.

"The EU is a strong pan-European democracy, which citizens care about. Whoever will lead the EU institutions, they will have a genuine mandate from the people," Tusk told reporters.

The EU council chief said the results make the parliament more complex, and more representative.

"The vast majority voted for a more effective, stronger and united Europe, while rejecting those who want a weak Europe. This is a powerful sign," Tusk argued.

Tusk said that Brexit propelled voters to support pro-EU parties. "Brexit has been a vaccine against anti-EU propaganda, and fake news," he said.

Merkel and Macron split over Weber presidency

EU heads of government have their first face-to-faces discussions after the European elections on who should lead the EU commission. They are unlikely to decide quickly - with the parliament also divided over the candidates.

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European voters upset the status quo in the new European Parliament, breaking the monopoly of the mainstream centre-right and centre-left. Here are the key points from the 2019 vote.

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