EU leaders failed to reach an agreement in the early hours of Friday (21 June) on the EU’s top jobs, as divisions over the process and the distribution of the posts impeded any progress.
“It’s quicker to elect a Pope very often,” Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar quipped as EU leaders headed towards a long night of discussions.
As a result, European Council President, Donald Tusk, told reporters after the meeting that leaders will meet again on 30 June for a working dinner.
Several EU leaders will be flying back from Osaka (Japan) where they will attend the G20 summit. They are also expected to discuss the nomination process on the sidelines of the meeting, an EU diplomat said.
They will have to reach a compromise on the candidates to head the European Commission, the European Council, the European Central Bank, the European Parliament, and the EU’s foreign policy post.
“The European Council had a full discussion of nominations taking into account my consultations and statements made within the European Parliament. There was no majority on any candidate,” Tusk told reporters.
“The European Council agreed that there needs to be a package reflecting the diversity of the EU,” he added.
“I am glad to see that I am not easy to replace,” joked current European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said it won’t be easier to get an agreement on 30 June “but it has to be done.”
In a rather bizarre press conference early Friday morning at 2am, which lasted less than seven minutes, both Juncker and Tusk avoided to talk about names or any details about how the discussion went.
As EU leaders were left alone in the room with their mobile phone signals jammed and with only one diplomat assisting them, EU officials also could not offer any details about how the discussion proceeded.
Asked about whether any progress was achieved during the four-hour long discussion, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte replied “nothing.”
Echoing other leaders’ position, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “under all circumstances we want a package with the [European] Parliament and the [European] Council before the first sitting of the Parliament, representing all the balance of power – everyone agreed on this.”
The newly composed European Parliament starts its work in Strasbourg with its first session on 2 July.
The EU28 are trying to reach a package deal taking into account the results of the recent European elections, while respecting gender balance, geography, demography and power share of small and big member states.
The EPP, winner of the vote, is defending its right to nominate the next Commission president, upholding the principle of the lead candidate system (Spitzenkandidaten).
However, the Socialist, the Liberal and the Green leaders in the European Council and in the Parliament, reject the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat, Manfred Weber.
Merkel, however, insisted on respecting the lead candidate system, as a first step towards the transnational lists for the European Parliament, which France has been defending.
“We are now halfway. If we also add transnational lists, we would get a transparent process. But we are not yet at the point which I would like to see,” she said.
Merkel’s comments came as an effort to narrow her differences with French President Emmanuel Macron, who was the main opponent to the Spitzenkandidaten process and, in particular, of Weber.
“I don’t veto candidates because they belong to a political party,” said Macron, who underlined that his reservations towards certain candidates were based on the lack of required competences for the job.
“It is the system that the political parties push forward that has been contested today,” Macron said on the Spitzenkandidaten process, “this should not be seen as a Franco-German issue.”
The disagreement between Berlin and Paris over the recent days had already complicated the likelihood of concluding a package of names.
Nevertheless, a senior source from the Elysée Palace said that “the Franco-German engine is irreplaceable”.
Germany and France “will not impose any agreement on the other 26 member states,” Elysée sources explained, but an understanding between both governments will be needed for any agreement regarding the top jobs.
On his way into the meeting, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani urged EU leaders to defend the appointment process. “It is important to defend the Spitzenkandidaten, because it is more democratic,” he said, adding that the EPP – his own political family – won the European elections.
His message was echoed by other centre-right leaders.
“As the largest party in the European Parliament, the President of the European Commission should go to us,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters.
But the leaders of other families disagreed and put forward their own names.
“The Dutch government doesn’t have a position at present because there is no emerging candidate, but as a liberal I am supporting Margrethe (Vestager),” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is negotiating on behalf of the liberal party family.
“We will defend the candidacy of Frans Timmermans,” stressed Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who is heading the discussions for the Socialist camp.
Edited by Michael Ball