Tue | Dec 1, 2020

EU leaders battle to end embarrassing top-job impasse

Published:Wednesday | July 3, 2019 | 12:23 AM
Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Andrej Babis (centre) arrives for an EU summit in Brussels on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. EU leaders continued a third day of talks to seek a breakthrough in a diplomatic fight over who should be picked for a half a dozen jobs at top EU institutions.
Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Andrej Babis (centre) arrives for an EU summit in Brussels on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. EU leaders continued a third day of talks to seek a breakthrough in a diplomatic fight over who should be picked for a half a dozen jobs at top EU institutions.

European Union (EU) leaders reconvened Tuesday to consider a new proposal to end an embarrassing deadlock over nominating candidates to hold the bloc’s key posts for at least the next five years.

In one of the longest EU summits in recent years, the leaders were assessing whether there was sufficient support to back German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen as the new president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, and name Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as the new council president.

Under the proposal, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell would become the EU’s foreign affairs chief and French ­monetary specialist Christine Lagarde the chief of the European Central Bank.

“Getting closer and closer,” said current council president Donald Tusk, who chairs the summit. His term ends on October 31.

“There is a reasonable level of support,” said a diplomat close to the negotiations who requested anonymity because the talks were still ongoing.

The European Parliament is set to vote Wednesday on its new president, while the new president of the European Central Bank could be named later.

The commission president is in charge of the EU’s day-to-day affairs and proposes legislation, while the council president ­organises summits of government leaders and brokers compromises among them.

The official start of the summit was delayed by more than four hours Tuesday as Tusk led ­discussions aimed at finding a compromise over who should secure the coveted posts.

The challenge is to name new leaders for the EU institutions who represent the 28-nation bloc’s political affiliations, population size and geography – a balance of countries from the north, and south, east and west. Some leaders also want at least two women nominated.

“Everyone has to understand that they have to move a little bit,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. The leaders, she added, “have the duty to find a solution”.

But the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, backed by Italy, appeared firmly entrenched in their opposition to former Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, seen by many as the most qualified candidate to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker at the head of the European Commission.

Timmermans is seen by these countries – many of them with anti-migrant governments – as a supporter of a contested scheme to impose refugee quotas on EU countries. He has also led efforts, backed by the threat of legal action, to improve the rule of law in Poland and Hungary.

“We want somebody on the presidency of the commission which doesn’t have a negative view on our region. Mr Timmermans is not acceptable for us. That’s it,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters as he arrived at the EU headquarters in Brussels.

“We have a completely different view on migration. He was always behind quotas and so on, so this is a problem for us,” Babis said.

Von der Leyen, 60, was born in Brussels and spent her early years in the Belgian capital. She is a close party associate of Merkel.

Attention has been focused on the European People’s Party (EPP), led by Merkel. The EPP has dominated the EU’s institutions and stood as the biggest group in Parliament over the last five years, but its star is waning and party leaders are still reluctant to relinquish power despite the election failure.

The summit, which started Sunday afternoon, broke down in recriminations on Monday, with leaders taking swipes at each other and criticising Tusk.

Once any proposal is confirmed by the leaders, only the council President is assured of the job. The Parliament must still confirm the commission jobs.

AP