Chances of EU leaders agreeing on Thursday on who should inherit the bloc’s top jobs – including the head of its central bank – appeared vanishingly slim, as France and Germany cast doubt on any imminent deal and Ireland said electing a pope would be easier.
The 28 national leaders meet in Brussels to discuss who should steer the bloc in coming years on issues ranging from monetary policy to migration and Brexit to trade.
“The sense I have is that we won’t be in a position to elect a new Commission president or a new Council president today,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on arriving to the leaders’ talks.
“It’s quicker to elect the pope very often than it is to fill these particular positions,” he quipped.
For the European Union, the Commission presidency is a similarly 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.
The head of the European Council is tasked with crafting compromises between member states, whose particular interests often vary.
The bloc’s top five jobs are all changing hands later this year after an EU-wide election last month.
Power centres Berlin and Paris are at odds over who should take over at the helm of the executive Commission, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel backing compatriot Manfred Weber, a deputy head of her centre-right sister party CSU.
“There is still a range of problems,” Merkel said on arriving to the Brussels talks. “It can be that we will not yet see a result today.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, campaigning to block Weber over lack of government experience, also suggested another leaders’ summit would be needed to seal a deal. The chairman of the leader’s talks, Donald Tusk, said of chances for a deal on Thursday: “I’m more cautious than optimistic.”
Paris and Madrid want more prominent EU jobs for liberal and socialist candidates after a change of the parliamentary guard.
“At the latest, (an agreement on the five roles) it must be done before the new Parliament convenes at the beginning of July. Which means we will see each other at the end of June,” said Macron.
Another summit could take place on June 30 or July 1.
WEBER’S CHANCES DROP
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.”
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 other roles changing hands are the head of Parliament, and 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.
Two of the leading candidates to head the ECB are German Jens Weidmann and French central bank governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau.