Latvia ex-PM may succeed Van Rompuy as president of European Council

Indecision a source of embarrassment in face of political unrest and deflation threat

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Union. Photograph: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Union. Photograph: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

Fri, Aug 29, 2014, 01:00

Former Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis is emerging as a major contender to succeed Herman Van Rompuy as president of the European Council but member states are still deadlocked over the nomination.

The lack of consensus means the name of Taoiseach Enda Kenny remains under quiet discussion in diplomatic circles, although close associates insist he has no interest in the job.

The nominee’s task is to chair summits whenever the leaders of the 28 member states gather and seek agreement among leaders in advance of such meetings. The mandate is for 2½ years.

Mr Kenny travels to Brussels tomorrow for a special EU summit to settle the appointment of Mr Van Rompuy’s successor, but agreement remains elusive.

Although a deal is in sight to hand the post of EU foreign policy chief to Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini, the vacancy at the helm of the council is proving more difficult to fill.

Ms Mogherini is a socialist so Mr Van Rompuy’s job is expected to go the centre-right European People’s Party to which most contenders are affiliated .

The summit tomorrow was prompted by the leaders’ failure to reach agreement at a special meeting last month. The situation is increasingly regarded as a political embarrassment in Brussels, given the political challenges presented by escalating tensions in Ukraine and Iraq and the danger of deflation in the euro zone economy.

Mr Dombrovskis’s name has surfaced in recent days as a serious rival to Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, whose candidacy gained momentum this week when he was backed by British prime minister David Cameron.

Signal to Moscow

As Russia escalates its incursion in Ukraine, high-level political sources believe the appointment of a Baltic nominee would send a strong signal to Moscow of European solidarity behind newer member states in the former eastern bloc.

At a meeting in Brussels yesterday, however, senior European diplomats were told Mr Van Rompuy might have to convene bilateral talks with leaders in the course of the summit on Saturday evening. This was taken as a clear sign that a pre-summit deal is not in prospect.

Mr Tusk has supporters but sources said resistance was also evident at the meeting yesterday in Brussels, where member states made preparations for the summit. This is said to centre on his poor English and lack of French, which would hinder him chairing meetings and projecting the EU globally.

Although Mr Van Rompuy has maintained a low public profile, he was a crucial figure in backroom talks to save the euro at the height of the debt crisis.