EU Locked in Internal Squabble over Who Gets Unelected Presidencies

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders launched a new round of talks Sunday in desperate hopes of producing a breakthrough in a diplomatic fight over who should fill top leadership posts at the 28-nation bloc.

Leaders of member countries have so far twice failed to make the key appointments, which include picking a replacement for Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the EU’s powerful executive arm, the European Commission, and for Donald Tusk as head of the agenda-setting European Council.

Some discussed the roster of upcoming vacancies, which by November will include the EU’s top diplomat, the president of the European Parliament and the chief of the European Central Bank, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Japan that concluded Saturday.

“There were a number of European countries in Osaka that discussed the issue, but there are no concrete compromises,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters as he arrived in Brussels for Sunday’s talks.

Asked about likely candidates for the commission job, Rutte said “That’s a moving picture.”

“You think that one candidate or another possibly has the best chance and it keeps shifting,” he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “spirit of compromise and above all ambition” as the leaders look to name what he described as “the new Team Europe.”

“There should be two men and two women” candidates for four of the five posts up for grabs in coming weeks, he said.

Macron, like Rutte, declined to say who he was backing.

The discussions about who should take the EU’s helm for the next five years and beyond could go well into the night, if not through it, warned Tusk, who will chair the meeting and said he would keep the leaders overnight and through early Monday if necessary.

Tusk met with party and government leaders Sunday ahead of the summit. He wants nominations to be wrapped up soon, seeking to prevent further erosion of public confidence in the EU amid Brexit uncertainty and intra-bloc divisions over managing migration.

The task will not be easy. The appointments must take into account political affiliation, geography – balancing east and west, north and south – population size and gender. The leaders of EU institutions are supposed to impartially represent the interests of all member nations on the global stage and in Brussels.

But patriotism sets in as officials from individual member countries push candidates from their homelands to rule the roost of the bloc’s population of 500 million and the world’s biggest economic alliance.

There was hope at the leaders’ June 20-21 summit that more time would bring views closer over who will replace Juncker at the commission. German Chancellor Angela Merkel backs German conservative Manfred Weber, whose centre-right European People’s Party is the largest political group in the European Parliament but lost seats in the EU elections in May.

Macron has suggested Weber lacks the political and government experience for such a high-profile role. Weber could still be considered for the head of the European Parliament which is the EU’s only elected institution.

“We are on a path that may make it possible to reach a result,” Merkel said in Japan before setting off for the EU summit.

The German leader said there was still a good possibility for Weber and the centre-left top candidate, Dutch politician Frans Timmermans of the European Socialist and Democrats group, to be among the winners of the top positions.

The European People’s Party, which is made up of Christian Democrats, and the S&D are the two biggest political groups in the EU, but both lost seats in May’s polls, where far-right and populist parties, pro-business liberals and the Greens made gains.

EU leaders want to fill the positions soon because the European Parliament is set to pick a new president next Wednesday.

Under EU rules, member countries choose who will run the Commission, replacing Juncker. The parliament must endorse that choice. But the assembly has insisted that only the lead candidates from parties that ran in last month’s elections should be eligible for the post.

The commission proposes and enforces EU laws on policies ranging from ranging from the massive single market to agriculture spending, from competition issues to immigration.

The job responsibilities are huge: Tusk and Juncker negotiate with the likes of U.S. President Donald Trump or Chinese leader Xi Jinping, while the head of the ECB can set monetary policy for the 19 nations that use the shared euro currency.

The outgoing group of EU officials was lopsidedly Italian, with Antonio Tajani holding the parliament top post, Mario Draghi head of the ECB and Federica Mogherini the EU foreign policy chief.

Top candidates include current prime ministers Stefan Lofven of Sweden and Andrej Plenkovic of Croatia. Others mentioned include Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier of France, Greens leader Ska Keller of Germany, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition chief since 2014.

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AP Writers Mike Corder in Brussels and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed

 

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