Spitzenkandidaten survives Sibiu, Tusk calls summit for 28 May

European Council President Donald Tusk [L] and Commission counterpart Jean-Claude Juncker [R] at a press conference in Sibiu. [Photo: European Council]

Europe’s leaders on Thursday (9 May) agreed to attend an emergency summit immediately after the EU elections on 28 May, as European Council President Donald Tusk said he wanted to have the distribution of the bloc’s top jobs decided in June.

Tusk told reporters in the Romanian city of Sibiu that “my intention is for the Council to nominate the new EU leadership in June. I call on everyone to live up to their responsibility to make this possible.”

He will be keen to avoid a repeat of 2014, when it took three summits over the course of three months to reach an agreement. Potentially tougher talks loom when member states nominate members of the next European Commission.

The former Polish prime minister also said that the decision will be made “within the rules stipulated by the treaties”, as well as factors like gender and geographical balance.

At the conclusion of the informal summit of the EU-27, he insisted that the most important priority of the jobs allocation is to “ensure effective institutions” and that he “will not shy away from putting these decisions to a vote, if consensus is difficult to achieve”.

Unanimity is not strictly required, although diplomats have reiterated that it is highly desirable. Hungary’s Viktor Orban and the UK’s David Cameron famously tried to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment in 2014.

Leaders will have to decide who will head the EU executive, the Council and the European Parliament, as well as the president of the European Central Bank and the bloc’s foreign policy chief.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in his press conference that he wants to “avoid compromise on the least good candidate, as was the case in the past”, suggesting that it could take longer than two summits to reach an agreement.

Weber: Ignoring Spitzenkandidaten would harm EU democracy

Most European leaders and parties have agreed to the Spitzenkandidat principle. If they suddenly ditched it, it would be a huge step back for democracy in Europe and could risk conflict between the European Parliament and the Council, said Manfred Weber, the centre-right EPP party’s Spitzenkandidat for the European elections.

Macron also reiterated that “I would not feel bound by nationality” when asked if France would actively pursue the job.

Spitz lives. For now

It is still unclear whether the method used to elevate Juncker to the Commission job, the so-called Spitzenkandidaten process, will be used a second time. The 28 May summit will leave little if no time for the results of the EU elections to be fully interpreted.

As the EU treaties only stipulate that the Council should take “into account the elections to the European Parliament”, there is no guarantee that the political group able to command a majority will get the Commission job, particularly since the system has some notable opponents in the Council, who see it as a process heavily geared towards Juncker’s European People’s Party (EPP).

The Spitzenkandidat mood was immediately sour in Sibiu, previously known as Hermannstadt, with Macron reiterating his opposition to it. The head of state said that it “is not the right approach”.

He added that he “has respect” for European People’s Party (EPP) candidate Manfred Weber but that “I don’t feel bound at all by the principle of Spitzenkandidaten.”

France is no longer taking Germany seriously

Official German politics has shown a professionally arrogant disregard for Emmanuel Macron’s reform ideas. Now the French president is retaliating. EURACTIV’s media partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

Arriving at the meeting, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said that the process “was a mistake from the beginning” and that it cannot function without proper transnational lists, a view shared by Macron.

Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, also told reporters that the process is “a little bit out of democratic procedures and treaties”.

Those negative appraisals suggested that the system could have been put to bed in the Transylvanian city but now it seems the decision will be made on 28 May instead.

Spitzenkandidaten still has its supporters in the Council, particularly among EPP leaders which is once again set to be in pole position after the elections.

Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz defended the system, saying “I do not see this as democratic [axing Spitzenkandidaten]”..

Kurz had just attended the EPP’s pre-summit, where the conservative grouping reiterated its support for its designated candidate, Bavarian Manfred Weber.

Weber has come under more pressure this week, locking horns with socialist counterpart Frans Timmermans in a debate, losing the support of Hungary’s Orbán and being forced to answer questions about a possible rival candidacy by Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

EPP divorce looms after Orban rejects Weber as Spitzenkandidat

The leader of Germany’s conservatives said she expected Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party would quit Europe’s main centre-right group after he withdrew support for the bloc’s candidate to head the European Commission.

However, EPP President Joseph Daul said that group leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, had “reiterated their unwavering support” for Weber. During concluding summit remarks, Merkel again said “I support Manfred Weber, to make this very clear”.

The May summit will reveal whether that support will be enough to keep the Bavarian’s hopes of succeeding Juncker alive or not.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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