EU leaders adjourn summit to break top jobs stalemate

2 July, 2019 12:00 AM printer

BRUSSELS: Sleep-deprived European Union leaders adjourned marathon talks until Tuesday amid stalemate over filling the bloc’s top jobs in the wake of May elections that have fragmented the EU political landscape, reports AFP.

The 28 EU leaders are trying to agree on who will steer the bloc over the coming years through the looming challenges of Brexit and the rise of populist parties in Europe.

Despite 18 hours of talks since Sunday, they needed more time to debate new proposals to overcome opposition to a Franco-German compromise on who will be the new chief of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.

European Council (EUCO) President Donald Tusk “suspends the meeting and reconvenes #EUCO tomorrow at 11h,” tweeted Tusk’s spokesman Preben Aamann.

Summit organiser Tusk had suggested in vain to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel around 8:00 am (0600 GMT) to drop efforts for now and reconvene in two weeks, a European source told AFP.

“The two replied to him: ‘It’s out of the question. We must absolutely find a deal today,’” the source said on condition of anonymity.

The compromise Merkel and Macron forged on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan on Saturday called for Dutch Social Democrat Frans Timmermans to head the commission, rather than his conservative rival German Manfred Weber.

Weber would instead be put forward for election as speaker of the European Parliament, where he leads the largest political bloc. A liberal candidate would succeed Tusk as president of the European Council of national leaders.

But when Merkel put this to fellow centre-right leaders in the European People’s Party (EPP) several rebelled, and the summit was thrown into crisis as heads of government shuttled between side meetings late into Monday morning. Merkel said later Monday she still “hoped that with good will a compromise will be feasible.”

The EPP is still the biggest bloc in the European Parliament, but no longer the dominant force it was before the May elections.

The liberals, which include Macron supporters, and Greens are increasingly assertive trying to choose the top jobs after they made huge gains in those elections.

Even though the Social Democrat bloc also lost ground, Timmermans, the commission’s current vice president, emerged as a compromise candidate to head the powerful commission.

“There is a strong consensus for Timmermans but the situation is very volatile. I’m more optimistic than I was three hours ago,” another European source said.

The latest idea is to have Timmermans head the commission, and the EPP’s Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian, heading the European Council, several European sources told AFP.

They also want a liberal as the diplomatic chief to replace outgoing commissioner Federica Mogherini of Italy. That could either be Belgian prime minister Charles Michel or Danish politician Margrethe Vestager, who currently oversees anti-trust policy on the commission.

Another source said Vestager could serve as vice president of the commission.

The stalemate has already lasted for weeks. An EU summit on June 20-21 failed to resolve differences over candidates. Timmermans, as vice-president of the commission for the past five years, has made enemies in the east of the EU, but it is not clear whether they have enough support to block his nomination.

Timmermans spearheaded EU efforts to impose its vision of the rule of law on authoritarian-leaning eastern members and is firmly opposed by Hungary and Poland.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in a letter to EPP leader Joseph Daul, said appointing Timmermans would be a “serious or even historical mistake”.

Polish Premier Mateusz Morawiecki said: “Frans Timmermans is a candidate who deeply divides Europe and he certainly doesn’t understand Central Europe.” Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is attending her last EU summit. A spokesman said she would play a “constructive role” and would not abstain from any vote.

A French source told AFP the breakdown in communication between Merkel and her fellow centre-right leaders came as a surprise.

“This summit was very poorly prepared,” said one European diplomat, annoyed by what he said was a lack of consultation before the marathon session.