BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders will meet again on June 30 to seek agreement on who should inherit the bloc’s top jobs – including the head of its central bank – after failing to get a deal at the second attempt in talks dragging into the small hours on Friday.
French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a meeting prior the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 20, 2019. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS
The 28 national leaders meeting in Brussels for secret deliberations – no aides or phones allowed – remained at odds on who should steer the bloc in coming years.
“There was no majority for any candidate,” summit chairman Donald Tusk told a news conference. “We will meet again on June 30.”
The prominent positions, including the head of the European Central Bank and the EU’s executive European Commission, lead the bloc’s policies on issues ranging from monetary policy to migration and Brexit to trade.
For the European Union, the Commission presidency is a pivotal job. The body acts as the bloc’s competition watchdog, oversees national budgets and proposes policies from climate change to tech regulation – big areas as member states struggle with a range of challenges at home and abroad.
“I note with certain amusement that it is not easy to replace me,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, whose term as the Commission chief expires at the end of October.
The bloc’s top five jobs – including the head of the European Council tasked with crafting compromises between member states, whose particular interests often vary – are all changing hands later this year after an EU-wide election.
Power centres Berlin and Paris clashed over who should take over at the helm of the Commission, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel backing compatriot Manfred Weber, a deputy head of her centre-right sister party CSU.
French President Emmanuel Macron is campaigning to block Weber over lack of government experience. Paris and Madrid want more prominent EU jobs for liberal and socialist candidates after a change of the parliamentary guard.
Any new Commission chief must not only get the backing of a clear majority – or, preferably, unanimity – of national leaders but must also be accepted by the new European Parliament, which will sit for the first time on July 2.
The newly elected legislature has refused to rally behind Weber, even though he heads the biggest faction there, the European People’s Party (EPP). This might give Merkel just enough grounds to drop him eventually, diplomats said.
“Weber’s claim is imploding. The Parliament is more divided than before and has missed the boat. And EPP national leaders are turning their back on him as well,” said a senior EU diplomat. “If the Germans lose Weber, the French don’t get the job either, it’s tit for tat.”
Possible consolation prizes for Weber include the presidency of the European Parliament, or a deputy head of the next Commission, diplomats said.
Seeking to narrow a wide gender gap in the bloc’s leadership is also a factor in a complex race that seeks to balance out party politics and regional influence in the EU.
The fifth job in the package of prominent postings up for grabs is the EU’s chief diplomat.
Other names in the frame include Frenchman Michel Barnier, currently the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Croat Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, currently the bloc’s top competition official, and Belgium’s caretaker Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Vestager – who has been publicly praised by both Merkel and Macron in the past – could help avoid a tug-of-war between the national leaders and the European Parliament as the liberal faction there has proposed her for the Commission chief.
Two of the leading candidates to head the ECB are German Jens Weidmann and French central bank governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau.
“It’s quicker to elect the pope very often than it is to fill these particular positions,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar quipped.
Reporting by Belen Carreno, Michel Rose, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Jan Strupczewski, Daphne Psaledakis, Gabriela Baczynska, Alexandra Regida, Sabine Siebold, Foo Yun Chee, Philip Blenkinsop, Peter Maushagen, Andreas Rinke and Robin Emmott; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by John Stonestreet