The European Union’s leaders gathered on Tuesday for a third consecutive day of arm-wrestling over the 28-nation bloc’s key posts, with little sign that fundamental differences had narrowed.

In the ever more fragmented bloc, leaders are trying to balance political affiliations, the varying interests of different regions, and an acute lack of women in senior ranks.

Some leaders dozed off from exhaustion in the small hours of Monday during talks that ended with Italy and ex-communist eastern states blocking socialist Dutchman Frans Timmermans from taking up the highest-profile post, that of president of the EU executive, the European Commission.

“It’s all up in the air,” an EU diplomat said. “Everything is possible. It was all over the place yesterday, so now we are back to square one.”

The Commission presidency, currently held by Jean-Claude Juncker, is the marquee post among five at stake that will shape policy in everything from commerce to climate and migration for the world’s biggest economic bloc and its 500 million people.

Arriving on Tuesday, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters: “We’re just asking that Mr Timmermans is not acceptable.”

His Polish peer, Mateusz Morawiecki, expected talks to be “very difficult”.

But Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne said a series of meetings between EU leaders since Monday afternoon should be enough to unlock a deal.

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