Divisions on show as EU leaders try to end top jobs impasse

3 July, 2019 12:00 AM printer

BRUSSELS: EU leaders clashed Tuesday as they arrived for a third straight day of talks aimed at filling the bloc’s top jobs, with deep divisions threatening hopes of a swift decision.

An 18-hour summit session broke up in acrimony on Monday with no agreement on a French-German compromise on who will become the new chief of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.

However, a European source told AFP that France and Germany were discussing German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a conservative, as a new compromise candidate.

Their previous candidate, Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans, faced continuing opposition on Tuesday.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis slammed Timmermans as “absolutely unacceptable” to a group of Eastern European countries, setting the stage for more tough wrangling behind closed doors.

Timmermans has enraged the so-called “Visegrad 4” group of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech republic with his softer approach to migration as commission vice-president over the last five years.

“He has always pushed a migration policy which is unacceptable for us, so this man is absolutely unacceptable and I can’t see why the prime ministers of France, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany weren’t able to understand,” Babis said as he arrived for talks.

But Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez stood firm behind fellow Social Democrat Timmermans suggesting French President Emmanuel Macron’s hopes of agreement in “a few hours” on Tuesday could be thwarted.

In a sign of the tensions gripping the summit, the resumption of the formal talks on Tuesday was delayed from 11am (0900 GMT) until 1pm, and then again until 2 pm to allow leaders to meet one-on-one or in small groups.

“I think they need to consult more to have a better chance of reaching a decision,” an EU source told reporters. “It’s often easier in small groups.”

An EU diplomat said the Timmermans proposal had foundered Monday in the face of opposition from the Visegrad 4 plus Italy, where the populist government shares some of the Eastern Europeans’ anger at Brussels over migration.

Sanchez, who held pre-summit talks with Macron and the Portuguese PM on Tuesday, took aim at those rejecting Timmermans who has defended EU values on migration and rule of law.