The Brief – The EPP’s Hobson’s choice

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [PHILIPP GUELLAND-EPA]

The clock is ticking on agreeing on the new European Commission president and the once almighty European People’s Party is having some tough choices to make in the next couple of days.

The Mexican standoff between France and Germany, amplified and replayed between the Council and the Parliament, needs to be overcome. It may or may not happen this Sunday.

A lot depends on whether the EPP choose to stick to the Spitzenkandidaten process, which the Parliament also demands, knowing full well they will not be able to command support for their own candidate, Manfred Weber.

In that case, the Commission might even go to the Socialist candidate, Frans Timmermans, with Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager as his vice-president. Weber would get the consolation prize, the Parliament presidency, where he could prepare to launch another try for the Commission in five years’ time.

For the EPP to cut its candidate loose and cede the most important post to someone else would have been unthinkable a decade ago. But the times have changed and the EPP, though still the strongest party in the Parliament, has shrunk geographically.

“It’s been reduced to central and eastern Europe. Western Europe has gone green, or liberal, or socialist,” according to one Brussels pundit.

So who will eventually take what is probably one of the most difficult decisions for the party in years?

“There is only one power player in Europe and that’s Mutti,” a season EU diplomat told EURACTIV, referring to Chancellor Angela Merkel. “This is her last hoorah. Macron is still too young. He may be the centre of the universe in France, but that’s not the case in Brussels and he still doesn’t quite get it.”

The rumour mill has it that Merkel is getting around to dropping Weber and, may have already broken the news to him. She was never a particular fan of the Spitzenkandidaten anyway. There is also a flurry of talks among the EU leaders attending the G20 summit in Japan, chaired by Council President Donald Tusk.

“We are getting closer to a solution but are still too far away to be specific,” Tusk tweeted cryptically from Osaka.

There is another scenario that could just as well play out on Sunday night. The EPP might dig in their heels and say ‘it’s the Spitzenkandidaten or an institutional crisis’.

No one is likely to wish for an institutional crisis while the EU needs to finalise its long-term budget.

So what would that yield? The EPP, as the biggest party, would hold on to the Commission, but it cannot be Weber, so it should be someone removed from the Spitzenkandidaten mess.

How about someone whose name has rarely been mentioned, like Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar? He is not offensive to any member state, is reasonably neutral and competent to be acceptable. On top of that, he might help rebuild the bridges with Washington.

In that case, the Socialists would get the Council, and it might well be former Danish premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Or Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, despite some grumblings about her ‘communist past’.

Of course, there is also the third scenario, where there is no agreement and the whole thing is postponed for the second plenary session (15-18 July)…

Stay tuned and follow the developments on our live blog.

The Roundup

Climate negotiations ended in Bonn, Germany, Thursday (27 June), with Saudi Arabia questioning the scientific value of the UN’s 1.5 °C global warming report. No agreement has been reached on the carbon mechanisms enshrined in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze announced that she will be holding talks with representatives of all states that have so far refused to join the EU’s carbon neutrality objective for 2050.

The European Parliament’s leftist group (GUE/NGL) has proposed setting up a special climate emergency parliamentary committee to shift the spotlight on to green issues even more over the next five years.

The next European Commission should take a stronger position on innovation in the pharma sector, the new leader of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations told in an interview.

The reform of the legal system in Poland “fundamentally violates” all its elements and the government in Warsaw needs to do more to avoid “undermining public confidence in it,” the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights said in a report.

France is challenging the meat quotas provided for in the EU-Mercosur trade agreement, while at the same time it plans to ratify the EU-Canada free trade agreement (CETA), which has been criticised by French beef producers.

As Brussels relies on bilateral talks to increase trade relations with the ASEAN group, it is getting closer to concluding two free trade agreements with Vietnam. But the European Parliament could yet prove to be a significant obstacle.

A lively but polarised debate between farmers and an environmental organisation exposed barely concealed tensions over livestock farming, which could colour the political agenda of the next EU legislative term.

Look out for…

The EU-28 summit on Sunday, with the likely complimentary breakfast on Monday morning (if all goes well, or badly, depending on how you see it).

Views are the author’s

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