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19th Jan 2020

Still no deal on EU top jobs, but Timmermans leads race

  • EU council chief Donald Tusk and parliament president Antonio Tajani at the start of the marathon summit (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Dutch socialist lead candidate Frans Timmermans remained favourite, but far from certain, to get the EU's top post, the European Commission presidency, on Monday morning (1 July) after all-night talks in Brussels.

The Timmermans plan, coined at the G20 meeting in Osaka by the leaders of Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands, had met with heavy resistance at the start of the summit on Sunday afternoon, but there was not enough opposition to destroy the Dutch politician's bid.

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  • There was strong opposition to Timmermans among the alliance of central European countries - the so-called Visegrad Four. (Photo: European Commission)

Several leaders from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group, which won last May's election even though it lost some seats in the European Parliament, rejected naming a socialist to lead the commission.

There was also strong opposition to Timmermans among the alliance of central European countries - the so-called Visegrad Four.

Two members of the group, Poland and Hungary, had been heavily criticised by Timmermans for encroaching on the independence of the judiciary and curbing democratic freedoms.

But despite that and the EPP leaders' rebellion, German chancellor Angela Merkel and EU council president Donald Tusk pushed ahead with the so-called 'Osaka plan'.

Tusk had spent the night in bilateral meetings with EU leaders to come to an agreement that originally included handing the presidency of the EU council to the liberals, the European Parliament presidency to EPP lead candidate Manfred Weber, and the EU's foreign affairs chief post also go to the centre-right.

EU leaders also briefly met with European Parliament president Antonio Tajani on Sunday.

The Italian politician told journalists afterwards that the EP will elect its new president next Wednesday (3 July) in Strasbourg, irrespective of the decision of the EU leaders.

Even if leaders clinch a deal for the top job on Monday, the EP will later have to vote on approving the new commission president.

And it remains to be seen if EPP lawmakers would back Timmermans, with their support needed for the Dutchman to take up the top position.

Tusk was also testing out names of possible EPP candidates - Ireland's Leo Varadkar, Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, and WorldBank's chief executive Kristalina Georgieva.

Meanwhile, Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte told journalists on Monday morning that "it is difficult to say" if EU leaders will reach on agreement on the EU top jobs at all.

Keeping the spitzen alive

It was the third time EU leaders had met to assess the outcome of the EU elections in May.

Only last week, leaders such as Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron said there was no majority for any of the lead candidates of the European political families.

However, Merkel was keen to avoid an institutional battle between the council of member states and the EU parliament, which has argued under the so-called "spitzenkandidaten" process that one of the lead candidates of the party alliances should be picked by EU leaders.

"We will try to be constructive, but to me, it is important to avoid an inter-institutional conflict between the Council and the Parliament," Merkel said when arriving at the summit on Sunday.

At the last EU summit, resistance to Weber - primarily from Macron - meant that the Bavarian politician was out of the race for the commission position. Merkel, however, wanted to keep the spitzen-process alive as long as possible and choose from the parties' lead candidates.

The EPP has been pushing to hold on to the EU commission top job in the month after the EU election.

In the early hours of Monday morning, it seemed that to compensate for the loss of the EU executive, an EPP politician would get the EU council president position as well.

Croatia's centre-right prime minister Andrej Plenkovic, but also Belgium's liberal leader Charles Michel, have been mentioned by diplomats for the council job.

Key states push Timmermans for commission president

The Angela Merkel-inspired 'Osaka plan' to nominate socialist Frans Timmermans as the commission president hit major roadblocks within her own party alliance the EU 'top jobs' summit kicked off in Brussels.

EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs

The EU parliament might allow an extra 24 hours for EU heads of government to first come up with the new EU leadership names. Meanwhile, EPP lead candidate Manfred Weber is meeting Angela Merkel and AKK in Berlin for backing.

Additional summit over top EU jobs looms

It's quicker to elect the pope than to agree on the new EU leadership, quipped the Irish prime minister at the start of the EU summit - which may end only with another summit soon to pick the top jobs.

Feature

Who is Frans Timmermans?

The Dutch frontrunner for president of the European Commission is popular at home - but seen as the personification of an unfairly-critical Brussels in some central and eastern member states.

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