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EU leaders split over top jobs in Brussels

Jean-Claude Juncker will head the European Commission until October 31.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron (Olivier Matthys/AP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron (Olivier Matthys/AP)

European Union leaders are divided over who to appoint to the top jobs in Brussels, after elections shredded comfortable political alliances and raised troubling questions about the future of the bloc.

At a summit in Brussels, major powers France, Germany and Spain differed over who is best suited to lead the EU’s powerful executive arm, the European Commission, for the next five years.

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(PA Graphics)

Former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker heads the commission, which proposes EU laws and ensures they are respected, until October 31.

After voters turned out for last week’s European Parliament elections in numbers not seen in 20 years, the leaders want to show they can respond quickly to people’s concerns.

The aim is to name all four top jobs – the commission chief, a replacement for Donald Tusk as European Council president, a new foreign policy chief and head of the European Central Bank – at a summit from June 21-22.

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Jean-Claude Juncker will head the European Commission until October 31 (Francisco Seco/AP)

Avoiding any mention of the differences or candidate names, Mr Tusk said the leaders hope “we can provide clarity on all these posts already in June”, but he added that will depend “on the goodwill of everyone involved”.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose party is joining forces with a new pro-business liberal group in the EU parliament for the first time, insisted the choices should represent the new political project that European voters are demanding.

He said: “The new order means one thing: It’s that we cannot just repeat the old habits.

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French President Emmanuel Macron said the appointments need to reflect the fact that voters’ views are changing (Olivier Matthys/AP)

“It is important to me that these nominations have parity, that we have two men and two women. It is important for me to have the best profiles possible.

He added there must also “be balance in terms of political leanings and in terms of geography”.

Other leaders, too, said the aim is to have two women in top posts.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s choice for EC president is Manfred Weber (Francisco Seco/AP)

Last week’s elections saw Europe’s mainstream centre-right and centre-left parties lose seats in the European Parliament.

The conservative European People’s party, which has been the largest group in the assembly, and the Socialists and Democrats have held a majority in the body for 40 years.

But voters concerned about climate change, migration or security turned instead to the Greens, the pro-business ALDE group or far-right parties.

As a result, it is unclear what workable majority will emerge in the assembly, which sits in Brussels and Strasbourg, when politicians gather in July, especially as the leaders and party groups jockey for position.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the summit as “good and harmonious”, even though Mr Macron virtually ruled out the prospect of her favourite, Manfred Weber, replacing Mr Juncker.

He suggested the former Bavarian politician lacks solid experience.

Mr Weber has never served in government or at a major institution like the European Commission. He has led the European People’s party since 2014, but the group suffered major losses at the polls.

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EC presidency candidate Margrethe Vestager has won backing from Emmanuel Macron (Olivier Matthys/AP)

Mr Macron said Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, who is now the EU’s competition commissioner, would be a suitable replacement, as would Michel Barnier – the Frenchman who has led the EU’s Brexit negotiations.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez threw his political weight behind the Socialists’ candidate, Frans Timmermans, who is a former Dutch foreign minister and currently Mr Juncker’s right-hand man at the commission.

“We will support Frans,” Mr Sanchez said. “He has the experience not only at the national level but also at the European level to lead the commission.”

After Tuesday’s summit it appeared clear the process will take some time, amid signs of a power struggle between the EU Council, which represents national governments, and the parliament.

PA

From Belfast Telegraph