Brussels – European leaders have failed to agree on a package of senior nominations on the team that will guide the EU for the next five years, with divisions still too deep for compromise.
The heads of government are due back in Brussels on June 30 to choose a new president of the European Commission to replace Jean-Claude Juncker and Brussels’ most senior officials.
– Spitzenkandidat spurned –
Since 2014 and the Lisbon treaty, the EU has experimented with a process that would give first dibs for top jobs to the party that comes out first in EU elections.
As usual, the centre-right European People’s Party — the political movement backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel — came out the winner last month, though with a historically low share of the vote.
The Spitzenkandidat — or lead candidate — for the EPP is German MEP Manfred Weber. French President Emmanuel Macron says Weber doesn’t have enough heft to take the EU’s top job, head of the European Commission, having never been a national leader or high-profile minister.
After the summit on Thursday, Macron said he viewed the Spitzenkandidaten process as dead — with none of the group leaders commanding a majority — and said new names were needed to fill the biggest roles.
The incoming European Parliament
– Who now? –
Merkel was not ready to pronounce the parliament’s preferred nomination process dead and buried, but she took note that 46-year-old Weber does not appear to enjoy enough support to win through.
In which case, who will lead the Commission and what does that mean for the haggling over the posts of president of the European Council, speaker of parliament or EU foreign policy high representative?
The current head of the Council, former Polish premier Donald Tusk, who is overseeing the appointment says the 28 leaders have agreed that the jobs package must better represent Europe as a whole.
This means find at least two women for top jobs, and tying to strike a balance between east and west, between large countries and small ones, founding members and new arrivals.
All this, plus, each of the four main political “families” in the majority coalition — the conservative EPP, the socialist S&D, the Liberals and the Greens — are seeking a share of the cake.
What EU jobs are up for grabs?
– Who gets the Commission? –
Juncker’s post in the union’s Berlaymont headquarters is the most sought after post and arguably the most powerful, a chief bureaucrat with an increasingly political role.
In recent years it has been dominated by the centre-right EPP, but Juncker was also a former Luxembourg prime minister and he owes the job as much to his friends on the Council as to parliamentary support.
Weber, while a veteran European Parliament lawmaker, has no executive experience or wide political base and was opposed by Macron and many other leaders.
Nevertheless, diplomats say the Council members expect the EPP as the most powerful, if diminished, group to have to provide the nominee.
The most commonly cited alternative is Michel Barnier, a former French minister and European commissioner who led the union’s negotiations with Britain over its imminent Brexit divorce.
Barnier’s Brexit role gave him a chance to tour European capitals and to brief national leaders in what often seemed a proxy campaign. But would Berlin back a Frenchman after Macron torpedoed Weber?
Looking eastwards and south, two Croats have also be named in connection to the top job, President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic — a former NATO deputy secretary-general — and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva, a former commissioner turned chief executive of the World Bank, might also be asked to return from Washington.
Who will lead the European Commission?
– What else is open? –
The next most prestigious job in Brussels is that of president of the European Council, currently Tusk, who represents EU heads of state.
The next president will start work on December 1 for five years.
Belgium’s outgoing liberal premier Charles Michel and Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite have been linked to the role.
The European Parliament is due to start its next session on July 2 and may move quickly to elect a new speaker — also given the title “president” — to replace Italian EPP member Antonio Tajani.
The EU leaders will, however, want to influence that choice as it is a bargaining chip in the broader top job game.
They will also have to find a replacement for Federico Mogherini as the European High Representative for foreign affairs.
And lastly, at some point the leaders will have to decide on a new director of the European Central Bank, although this is being treated separately from the main package.
– Why June 30? –
The leaders have only given themselves a week to break the logjam, but they want to meet and make their nominations before the new parliament sits.
But the delay also gives six of the most powerful leaders — from France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain — a chance to meet on the sidelines of the Osaka G20 summit in Japan.
And it is there, far from the political intrigue of Brussels, that the decision may be made.
How does the European Union work?