EU summit on top appointments ends in stalemate

End of Brussels talks a potential blow to effort to secure agriculture commissioner post

Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat listens to Britain’s prime minister David Cameron as Taoiseach Enda Kenny walks past during the European Union summit in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat listens to Britain’s prime minister David Cameron as Taoiseach Enda Kenny walks past during the European Union summit in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Thu, Jul 17, 2014, 06:56

A special European summit to make top EU appointments ended in stalemate early this morning, potentially dealing a blow to Dublin’s campaign to secure the agriculture portfolio for incoming Irish commissioner Phil Hogan.

The push to select the next EU foreign policy chief stalled over opposition to Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini, prompting European leaders to call another summit at the end of August to settle the matter and the nomination of a successor to European Council president Herman Van Rompuy.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny dismissed speculation linking him to Mr Van Rompuy’s position as he arrived at the talks. Leaving Brussels early this morning, he said Italian premier Matteo Renzi had signalled he might compromise in relation to Ms Mogherini’s nomination but wanted clarity first over Italy’s seat on the commission.

The change in Mr Renzi’s stance may yet weaken Mr Hogan’s prospects of securing the agriculture portfolio as European officials believe Italy has set its sights on that post if Ms Mogherini is blocked. Her critics believe she is too inexperienced and they have also taken issue with Italy’s reticence over European sanctions against Russia over its interference in Ukraine.

The Taoiseach said newly-installed European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had asked for all 28 member states to complete their nominations to his administration by the end of this month.

Diplomats believe the failure to settle any appointments last night will trigger intensive haggling in coming weeks as EU leaders angle for advantage in the allocation of commission portfolios.

“It’s a bit unfortunate but not dramatic at all,” said Mr Van Rompuy of the failure to strike a deal last night. “These things take time. I’m absolutely certain we will take the decision on Aug 30th.”

Although Mr Kenny cited opposition to Ms Mogherini, he said nevertheless that a number of countries would support her. “Prime minister Renzi himself said that he was quite open to compromise but that he needed to know in respect of who he should nominate for the commission subsequently,” the Taoiseach said.

“So from that point of view there wasn’t any detailed discussion about names for the high representative position other than the Italian foreign minister and no names mentioned about the process for leading the appointment of the president of the Council.”

Asked if Mr Hogan’s chances of securing the agriculture post would be damaged if Ms Mogherini’s name was withdrawn, Mr Kenny said there was no question last night of any portfolios being named in respect of individual commissioners designate.

“I spoke to Jean-Claude Juncker. He’s in a position where he wants to talk over the next period to those who are nominated by the different countries,” Mr Kenny said.

The Taoiseach said he did not discuss specific portfolios with Mr Juncker. “No more than any other country we would look for the best possible commissionership that we could get but he made it perfectly clear that this Commission, the make-up of this Commission and the portfolios to be allocated will be on his say so and on nobody else’s.”

Asked if it was bad for the European authorities to finish a special summit on top appointments only with a decision to convene another summit in a few weeks time, the Taoiseach said new leaders around the table were not clear on the process.

“It’s not the first time this has happened as you’re well aware over very many years and probably won’t be the last,” he said.