France and Germany still at odds over EU top jobs

"No one can say for sure whether there will be an agreement tomorrow [ed.: 20 June] but there is a willingness to have a summit that is meaningful. Therefore, there needs to be progress, or even more," said a French diplomat.

As the 28 EU leaders meet on Thursday (20 June), it is still uncertain whether they will agree on the appointment of the new chiefs of the EU institutions, with Franco-German tensions simmering in the background. EURACTIV France reports.

“There is something exciting about the fact that Franco-German relations are currently confusing but that is not the issue at hand,” a French source said.

On the French side, the current stalemate over the nomination of the new President of the European Commission is “not a question of person or party but of competences”.

Since the Sibiu summit in May, however, the Franco-German dialogue seems to have reached a dead-end.

If France vetoes Manfred Weber’s candidacy, which is supported by Berlin, the likelihood is that Germany will then veto Michel Barnier, the French runner-up for the position.

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However, the situation is evolving fast and the situation could change dramatically during the European summit, which starts on Thursday (20 June).

“Things can untangle like that,” said the French source, adding that EU leaders are coming to Brussels with “the motivation and the energy necessary” to untangle the discussion over the EU’s top jobs.

If all goes according to plan, the summit will end up with three names: a new President of the European Commission, a president of the European Council and a new EU foreign affairs chief. The European Parliament Presidency is also up for grabs but is formally being decided by MEPs separately, although the process is closely linked.

Series of meetings

Emmanuel Macron will be in Brussels early on Thursday, to meet the heads of states tasked by European Council President Donald Tusk to reflect on the question of the EU’s top jobs.

Following that, Emmanuel Macron will meet Angela Merkel at 1:45 pm, before meeting Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk together.

This is when Germany will decide on whether to consider other options or cling on to their candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, Manfred Weber, although his party did not reach a majority in the European elections.

France has insisted on several skills for the Commission position including qualifications and experience, gender (France wants two women present in the 4 positions), geographical balance, and “generation”, as some have insisted on younger candidates.

“Some candidates meet all the criteria, others only some. If there is no agreement on the first ones being proposed, the list will be extended,” the French source explained.

The French ‘criteria’ appear to favour Danish candidate for the European Commission presidency Margrethe Vestager, who nevertheless has the disadvantage of not coming from a eurozone country.

France has insisted that the future president of the European Commission needs to have a qualified majority in the Council, but also a solid majority in the European Parliament, implying that Manfred Weber would not reach this majority.

“No one can say for sure whether there will be an agreement tomorrow but there is a willingness to have a summit that is meaningful. Therefore, there needs to be progress, or even more,” said a French diplomat.

He also mentioned the possibility of a candidate “shortlist” being proposed at the end of the dinner on Thursday (20 June) evening, during which discussions on the main positions will take place.

If this fails, the European leaders will have to meet at the end of June, in any case before 2 July, as that is when the European Parliament is set to ‘elect’ the new president of the EU Commission, meaning they will rather validate the European Council’s proposal.

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On the German side, time appears to be key in finding compromise.

Germany is expecting a decision on the appointment of the next European Commission President to be taken by 2 July, on the day of the next parliamentary session in Strasbourg, according to a spokesman of the German government.

If the European Council does not reach a decision, “it will not be the end of the world. There would still be ten days left to find a compromise,” he added. “Finding a compromise is important, but not at any price,” he warned.

And the German government does not intend to give up on the Spitzenkandidaten process. After meeting with the French president on Wednesday (12 June), the party chief of the Christian Democrats (CDU) Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, noted that Emmanuel Macron was “not a friend” of the procedure. She also noted that both countries had “systemic differences with regards to the procedure, which she hoped would soon disappear.

At the same time, in Berlin, a government spokesman reiterated the German government’s support for the Spitzenkandidaten procedure.

“Either France and Germany each win one of the top jobs to be filled, or there will be nothing at all,” he warned. In other words, there will be no progress and discussions will be postponed.

“We should not forget that the position of European Central Bank president should also be filled,” said Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP and vice-president of the the European Green group in the European Parliament.

About two weeks ago, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, while in Paris to meet Emmanuel Macron, also had a meeting with François Villeroy de Galhau, director of the Banque de France.

Jens Weidmann, head of the Bundesbank, is considered to be a potential candidate.

And France has obviously already lowered its guard on the issue. One diplomat even  stressed that there are “other positions to be taken on financial matters, in particular at the European Central Bank, the Resolution Fund or the European Stability Mechanism.”

So far, it would seem that France’s poker move to play Barnier against Weidmann has not worked.

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[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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