Italy and Poland today confirmed the two leading candidates for the job of EU foreign affairs chief as their nominations for commissioner, leaving Jean-Claude Juncker waiting for Belgium, the Netherlands Cyprus and Denmark to complete the line-up of the new European Commission.
Juncker had asked the heads of state to come up with their nominees by the end of July. 24 countries have now communicated their candidates to the new Commission President-elect.
The Bulgarian government recently resigned, leaving it up to the caretaker government to confirm the current commissioner and frontrunner, Kristalina Georgieva, for a second term.
Radoslaw Sikorski, of Poland, and Federica Mogherini, of Italy, were both endorsed by their national governments in the last 24 hours, intensifying the squabble over who will become the next High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The outcome of the race could define the EU's future approach to its relations with Russia, which are currently strained because of the Ukraine crisis.
Mogherini's candidacy has been criticised because the Italian foreign affairs minister lacks experience. Sikorski has strong credentials for the position; he has served as foreign affairs minister since 2007 and served as minister of defence in earlier Polish cabinets.
Russia divides the two frontrunners. Sikorski is considered as a pro-American who supports a uncompromising approach to EU-Russia relations, while Mogherini was criticised for being complacent towards Russia throughout the escalating conflict in Ukraine.
At the last EU Summit in Brussels (16 July), Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pushed hard to get his foreign affairs minister nominated as successor to Catherine Ashton as EU foreign affairs chief. But other member states, notably the Baltic states and Poland, voiced their concerns over the Italian candidate's perceived pro-Russian tendencies, effectively blocking her appointment.
Renzi sent a letter to the Commission President-elect to confirm his choice of Mogherini to become the next Italian EU Commissioner. He specified that Mogherini is their “candidate for the High Representative” job.
— Vincenzo Scarpetta (@LondonerVince) July 31, 2014
The Polish prime minister Donald Tusk confirmed his support for Radoslaw Sikorski, in a tweet on Thursday evening (31 July). The opposition party in Poland thought Sikorski was too soft on Russia, Tusk tweeted, and other EU politicians deemed him too hard, but “[e]veryone think he’s competent”.
Sikorski wg PiS jest wobec Rosji zbyt miękki, a wg unijnych polityków zbyt twardy. Wg wszystkich - kompetentny. Czyli w sam raz.
— Donald Tusk (@premiertusk) July 31, 2014
Crunch time for governments
The persistence of Renzi and the confirmation of Poland’s nominee intensifies the stalemate on EU top jobs.
Jean-Claude Juncker, who is in charge of putting together the puzzle of national nominees and portfolios for his team, aims to get an agreement before the end of the month. On 30 August, European leaders meet once more in Brussels to discuss the distribution of portfolios within the new Commission team.
Today (1 August) is crunch time for Juncker, as nearly all nominations have been confirmed. Slovenia is the only country which has given Juncker a list of names to choose from (see table below).
The total of confirmed nominees still puts Juncker in a tight spot on gender parity. The former Luxembourg Prime Minister asked EU leaders to put forward female candidates. Few did, and the next executive will have a maximum of eight women, it now appears.
The European Parliament, which will hold a confirmation vote in October to approve or reject the new Commission team, has threatened to reject an EU executive with less than ten women. Several European political figureheads have also put their weight behind a campaign for #TenOrMore women, on social media.
On Thursday, Sweden put forward its incumbent commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, to prolong her stay in the EU executive for another mandate. The Bulgarian government earlier backed its incumbent commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, on national public television but has not formally nominated her.
This brings the number of female nominees up to three. Slovenia proposed a list of names on Thursday, which include two female candidates.
Juncker is still waiting for names from the Belgian and Danish government. Both countries are expected to nominate another female, although in the case of Belgium, coalition negotiations are hampering all progress on the choice.
Map with the confirmed and likely commission nominees, on 1 August, at 12:00 CET:
- August-September: New president distributes portfolios within his team of 27 commissioners
- 30 August: EU leaders gather for a European Council summit to discuss top jobs
- October: European Parliament votes to approve or reject new Commission College as a whole
- 1 November: Target date for the new Commission to take office