20th Feb 2020

Additional summit over top EU jobs looms

  • European Council chief Donald Tusk (c) shakes hands with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. EU leaders need to agree who will replace Tusk and four other leaders of EU institutions (Photo: European Council)

The chances for an additional summit of EU leaders to decide on the bloc's next leadership positions increased on Thursday (20 June) when heads of state and government gathered in Brussels to discuss who to nominate.

Germany and France were still at odds, with French president Emmanuel Macron again dismissing the Spitzenkandidat, or lead candidate, process, a mechanism to appoint the candidate from the strongest party emerging at the EU elections last month, to run the next EU commission.

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  • 'It's quicker to elect the pope very often than it is to fill these particular positions,' said Irish PM Leo Varadkar (Photo: European Council)

German chancellor Angela Merkel, who backs the process, said there was no need to rush decision-making, the goal should be to agree only before the new European Parliament convenes in early July.

Macron also backed the idea of agreeing on the new presidents of the EU Commission, the EU Council, the EU's foreign affairs chief and the new governor of the European Central Bank later next week.

"At the latest, it must be done before the new parliament convenes at the beginning of July. Which means we will see each other at the end of June," Macron was quoted as saying by Reuters.

After meeting Merkel and Macron ahead of the summit, EU council president Donald Tusk, who aimed to seal a deal already on Thursday, sounded more wary.

"I'm more cautious than optimistic," he tweeted.

Complicating matters, the European parliament has been unable to put forward one candidate for the EU commission president. The election winner centre-right European People's Party (EPP) is pushing its lead candidate Manfred Weber, who has been backed by Merkel, but is rejected by Macron.

Describing how difficult the political mathematics are for choosing the new EU leaders, taking into account the geographical, party-political and gender balance, Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar likened the exercise to elect a pope.

"The likelihood is that we will have to have another summit at the end of June or early July," Varadkar said.

"It's quicker to elect the pope very often than it is to fill these particular positions," he quipped.

An extra summit could take place on June 30 or July 1.

The EU commission president must be nominated by the EU countries and needs to have a backing of at least 21 member states, although it is not likely Tusk would push for anyone who does not have broad support.

Weber has not secured the backing of the new parliament, where the EPP emerged from the elections bruised but remaining overall the biggest political party - but the greens and the liberals enjoyed a boost in numbers.

Not having the parliament's backing could make it possible for Merkel to drop support for Weber, but it would also mean she could not support a French candidate for the EU commission presidency, even though French EPP politician and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has been eyeing the job.

Other names in competition for the EU commission presidency include the Croatian premier Andrej Plenkovic (EPP), Denmark's liberal Margrethe Vestager, current competition commissioner, and Dutch commissioner Frans Timmermans from the Socialists.

Belgium's caretaker prime minister Charles Michel, a liberal, might be up for the EU council presidency job, although the position has been held before the current incumbent Donald Tusk by another former Belgian PM, Herman Van Rompuy.

Tusk wants quick deal on EU top jobs at Thursday summit

EU leaders will be discussing the new EU leadership positions - with France and Germany split over the largest political group's lead candidate. It might take an extra summit for leaders to come up with final names.

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.

EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit

Political bosses of the European Parliament's groups, hoping to assemble a majority coalition, are eyeing putting forward an political agenda - and possibly a name for the commission top job - before EU leaders gather in Brussels.

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