European heads of state and government are heading for a possible vote on EU top jobs following two-day talks at a summit in Brussels on Monday (1 July) which led to a stalemate.
“It is likely that there will be a vote,” an EU source told reporters amid speculation that Frans Timmermans, a Dutch socialist, would take the top prize – the European Commission president post.
The vote, if it takes place, will be held on Tuesday when the 28 leaders meet at 11AM to haggle on final details and before the European Parliament elects its new leadership the following day.
Such a move has made Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel weary, who fears a vote will sow tension and divisions for years to come.
“It has to be a compromise where the advantages at the end of the day outweigh the disadvantages and it doesn’t matter really if it took us another day or two days to achieve that result,” she said of delay.
Other top posts like the presidency of the European Council, representing member states, and the EU’s foreign affairs chief, are also still up for grabs.
Efforts to balance gender, regional geography, and the political stripes among all of them has complicated the tasks.
But Monday’s impasse appeared to originate elsewhere.
A plan presented at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan sought to give Timmermans the Commission presidency and Manfred Weber, the centre-right EPP candidate, the European Parliament seat.
But the plan backfired in Brussels.
Merkel said the deal had been discussed with European Parliament president Antonio Tajani, Weber and the party leadership from the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU).
“Those were the results that I presented in Osaka. Apparently, we haven’t been sufficiently diligent in presenting them properly but that is not the only reason why we haven’t been able to reach agreement today,” she said.
Czech prime minister Andrej Babis voiced his own frustrations, telling reporters that it had made negotiations more difficult than they need have been.
“Unfortunately, Germany and some other states have insisted on the nomination which came more or less after the meeting in Osaka,” he said.
Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte made similar comments, telling reporters he had no problem with Timmermans as a person, but objected to being handed “a pre-formed package born elsewhere.”
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, had also not been informed of the Osaka deal despite also having been in Japan and despite phoning leaders to get their insights ahead of Sunday’s summit in Brussels.
“He learned of it relatively late during the G20 summit,” said an EU source, noting that the Polish politician had then spent some 16 hours on a plane before arriving in Brussels to start talks on the jobs.
“I think it is fair to say that he was a little bit surprised,” added the source.
Up until that point, Tusk had been working on the basis that the so-called lead candidate system known as the Spitzenkandidat was no longer the sole option following the informal conclusions of the 20 June summit.
Tusk then started consulting leaders on the new Osaka package.
But the deal quickly fell apart following objections from the centre-right EPP and some EU states.
The issue then led to a three hour delay to the start of the summit on Sunday and eventually to Monday’s impasse.
And the way the EU was handling the appointment process risked making it look silly to European citizens as well as further afield, some fear.
“We cannot hold talks with world leaders, in an ever more violent world, and be a club that meets at 28 without ever deciding anything,” said French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday.