Four new leaders expected at this week’s EU summit

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This week's EU summit (14-15 March) will see four new faces, even though just five weeks have elapsed since the 7-8 February summit. Resignations and elections have brought Slovenia and Malta new prime ministers and Cyprus a new president, while Bulgaria will be represented by the president ahead of an imminent poll.

The mostly male crowd at the EU’s highest table should be augmented by a new female leader. The leader of the centre-left Positive Slovenia, Alenka Bratušek, is her country's Prime Minister-designate, likely to forge a government in time for the summit.

In recent years only German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Lithuania president Dalia Grybauskait? have provided a touch of colour in the otherwise male-only summit “family photo”.

Bratušek, 42, took over following a vote in parliament on 27 February which dismissed the centre-right Prime Minister Janez Janša over a graft case.

>> Read: Slovenia sacks its PM as bailout fears grow

Another centre-left leader to join the high table will be the new Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, sworn in yesterday (11 March). Muscat’s Labour Party won the country's general election on Saturday (9 March) for the first time in 15 years. He will replace Lawrence Gonzi of the centre-right Nationalist Party. 

>> Read: Malta turns left for first time in 15 years

Muscat has made statements saying that he would add more weight to the centre-left camp at EU summits.

“We want to assure everybody that we are a new, progressive voice around the European table,” he reportedly said on election day.

In recent months, the dominance of the centre-right European People’s Party at EU summits has been eroding. The EPP currently has 13 out of the 27 members of the European Council: Angela Merkel (Germany), Mariano Rajoy (Spain), Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg), Traian B?sescu (Romania), Viktor Orbán (Hungary), Donald Tusk (Poland), Fredrik Reinfeldt (Sweden), Enda Kenny (Ireland), Valdis Dombrovskis (Latvia), Antonis Samaras (Greece), Jyrki Katainen (Finland), Pedro Passos Coelho (Portugal) and Nicos Anastasiades (Cyprus).

It was Anastasiades who broke the slimming-down tendency of the EPP group, when the new Cypriot president, elected on 24 February, replaced Demetris Christofias, the only Communist at the EU’s highest table.

>> Read: President-elect vows to restore the 'credibility of Cyprus’

Anastasiades, who was sworn in on 1 March, is expected to speed up a joint rescue plan by the European Union and International Monetary Fund before the island runs out of cash, potentially derailing the fragile confidence returning to the eurozone. Christofias had rejected the terms proposed for Cyprus’ rescue on ideological grounds.

The centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) is represented by François Hollande (France), Elio di Rupo (Belgium), Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Denmark), Werner Faymann (Austria), Robert Fico (Slovakia), Victor Ponta (Romania), Joseph Muscat (Malta). Alenka Bratušek’s party Positive Slovenia is not PES-affiliated, but PES has welcomed the involvement of the Social Democrats (SD) in negotiations for a new centre-left coalition government in Slovenia. Croatia, which is expected to join the Union on 1 July, is already represented at EU summits by its Prime Minister Zoran Milanovi?, a social-democrat.

The PES group had expected Italy to turn left following elections on 25 February. But although the Democratic Party of Pier Luigi Bersani won a majority in the lower house of parliament, it has no workable majority in the Senate. As the stalemate continues, Italy will be represented at the summit by Mario Monti, in his capacity as caretaker prime minister.

Another country where political uncertainty prevails is Bulgaria. The centre-right government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov resigned on 20 February following boisterous public protests in the capital and several other cities over electricity prices.

>> Read: Bulgarian prime minister quits following mass protests over electricity bills

The country’s President Rosen Plevneliev is expected to appoint a caretaker prime minister today, with early elections are due on 12 May. The two political parties which, according to polls, will win most votes are Boyko Borissov’s GERB party and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, led by Sergei Stanishev, who is also PES President.

But since many Bulgarians say that they don’t recognise themselves in any of the political parties – and protests continue – Stanishev has said he will not take up the prime minister's office even if his party wins the elections.

Plevneliev, who visited Brussels last week, said he will represent the country at this week's EU summit.

Early elections in May will almost certainly result in a parliament split between factions unwilling to work together, raising questions about the country's the financial stability. One of Plevneliev's tasks in Brussels, according to analysts, will be to reassure his European colleagues that the country remains governable.

EU leaders are meeting on 14-15 March for the regular Spring Council, normally dedicated to economic and social affairs.

In a letter dated 6 February, Council President Herman Van Rompuy warns EU leaders that according to recent forecasts, Europe’s economic recovery will be slow and fragile.

He invites them to continue to press on with structural reforms to boost European competitiveness and reinforce confidence in the European economy. 

  • 14-15 March: EU Spring Summit

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