Thu, May 30, 2019 - Page 1 News List

EU leaders divided over top jobs at summit in Brussels


French President Emmanuel Macron, left, gestures behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel at an EU summit meeting at European Commission’s headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

EU leaders remain divided over who to name to the bloc’s top jobs, after elections shredded comfortable old political alliances and raised troubling questions about the future of the European project.

At a summit in Brussels on Tuesday, major powers France, Germany and Spain all differed over who is best suited to lead the EU’s powerful executive arm, the European Commission, for the next five years.

Former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker heads the commission, which proposes EU laws and ensures they are respected, until Oct. 31.

After voters turned out for last week’s European Parliament elections in numbers not seen in 20 years, the leaders want to show they can respond quickly to people’s concerns.

The aim is to name all four top jobs — commission president, a replacement for European Council President Donald Tusk, a new foreign policy chief and head of the European Central Bank — at a summit on June 21 and June 22.

Avoiding any mention of the differences or candidate names, Tusk said the leaders hope “we can provide clarity on all these posts already in June,” but he said that “this depends not only my good will, but also on the good will of everyone involved.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose party is joining forces with a new pro-business liberal group in the European Parliament for the first time, said that the choices should represent the new political project that European voters are demanding.

“The new order means one thing: It’s that we cannot just repeat the old habits,” Macron told reporters.

“It is important to me that these nominations have parity, that we have two men and two women. It is important for me to have the best profiles possible,” he said, adding that there must “be balance in terms of political leanings and in terms of geography.”

Other leaders, too, said the aim is to have two women in top posts.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the summit as “good and harmonious,” even though Macron virtually ruled out the prospect of her favorite, Manfred Weber, replacing Juncker.

He suggested that the leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament lacked solid experience.

Weber has never served in government or at a major institution such as the European Commission. He has led the party since 2014, but the group suffered major losses in the election.

Macron said Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, who is now the EU’s competition commissioner, would be a suitable replacement, as would Michel Barnier, the Frenchman who has led the EU’s Brexit negotiations with the UK.

Getting Barnier to head the commission would mark a fillip for Macron following the strong showing of the French far-right in the elections.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez threw his political weight behind the Socialists’ candidate, Frans Timmermans, a former Dutch minister of foreign affairs and Juncker’s right-hand man.

“We will support Frans,” Sanchez said. “He has the experience not only at the national level, but also at the European level to lead the commission.”

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