Talks stall at special EU leadership summit

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EU leaders are deeply divided over who should succeed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Council President Donald Tusk paused the summit to spend more time negotiating with individual EU leaders.

A European Council summit to choose a new European Commission president and other top posts was delayed and then paused late on Sunday, after leaders were unable to reach a compromise. They were set to meet again on Monday morning.

The impasse is centered on the nominee to succeed outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who requires the approval of 21 of the 28 EU leaders, representing 65% of the bloc’s population.

Once EU leaders nominate candidates, these must be approved by the European Parliament.

EU Council President Donald Tusk, who was leading the talks on Sunday, put the summit on hold to spend more time negotiating the candidacy with individual EU leaders, his spokesman said.

Conservatives rebel

Current Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats lead candidate, was rumored to be the favorite in the race to succeed Juncker.

The party came in second in the latest European parliament elections last May.

Timmermans was the compromise choice in a deal reportedly forged by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Japan, and which also included other top EU posts. The deal was also backed by Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

But the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), which finished ahead of the socialists in the parliamentary elections, was not backing down on its support for their candidate, German lawmaker Manfred Weber.

Among the EU leaders that have reportedly objected to Timmermans are Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia and Ireland.

The outgoing vice-president of the Commission has spearheaded EU efforts to crack down on authoritarian-leaning eastern members through the bloc’s rule of law norm.

“The vast majority of EPP prime ministers don’t believe that we should give up the presidency quite so easily, without a fight,” Ireland’s center-right Prime Minister Leo Varadkar had told reporters on Sunday.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had sent a letter to the EPP warning that Timmermans’ nomination would be “a historical mistake.”

A balancing act

Also in the running for the EU’s top job were Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager of the liberal alliance, French MEP and EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, Belgium’s liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel, Bulgarian World Bank head Kristalina Georgieva, and outgoing Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

EU leaders must also select nominees for the European parliament chief, the European Council presidency, foreign policy chief and the head of the European Central Bank (ECB), a post that may be chosen at a later date.

EU members must take into account political affiliation, geography, population size and gender, when deciding the makeup of the bloc’s leadership.

EU institutions are supposed to impartially represent the interests of all member nations on the global stage and in Brussels.

jcg/jm (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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