The contenders: those in running for top EU posts

There are an array of potential candidates to fill two of the most senior posts in the union

Denmark’s prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the presumed favourite to be the next European Council president. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Denmark’s prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the presumed favourite to be the next European Council president. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Thu, Jul 17, 2014, 01:01

EU leaders discussed an array of potential candidates as they worked last night to fill two of the most senior posts in the union: the presidency of the European Council, held by Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium; and foreign policy chief, held by Catherine Ashton of Britain. A possibility still in play was that they would reassign leadership of the euro group of finance ministers as part of a package of top appointments.

EU foreign policy chief This was the first position to be settled. The early favourite was Italian minister Federica Mogherini, a socialist. However, her relative inexperience is a problem as is Rome’s perceived reticence over European sanctions against Russia’s interference in Ukraine.

Another socialist candidate is the multilingual Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans, who has worked in foreign policy for decades.

Centre-right candidates include Bulgaria’s European commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, whose command of the humanitarian aid portfolio in the EU executive is widely held to have been a success.

Adding to her credentials is the fact that she held a ranking post in the World Bank. However, she was the nominee of the previous Bulgarian government and the current administration in Sofia has someone else in mind for its seat in the commission.

Also in the frame on the centre-right is Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who has no shortage of foreign policy prowess. His campaign slumped, however, when he was caught on tape talking ill of British prime minister David Cameron using foul language.

Another contender is veteran Swedish diplomat Carl Bildt, foreign minister since 2006 and a former prime minister. He, too, does not lack mileage. He was the UN special envoy for the Balkans between 1999 and 2001 and had earlier served as representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina and as EU special representative for the former Yugoslavia.

European Council president

This is the post with which Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been quietly linked, although Mr Kenny has signalled he has no interest whatever in the job. In spite of all that, the Taoiseach might yet emerge as a compromise candidate.

The presumed favourite is Danish premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a socialist who has strong European credentials and is a former MEP. But Denmark is not a euro-zone country, leading opponents such as France to say privately that Thorning-Schmidt is unacceptable.

Mr Van Rompuy has dismissed such claims, saying any leader of any EU institution is appointed to serve the European interest not the interests of their own country.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk is another contender, though he faded from prominence in recent months. While he would have the advantage of being the first top EU officials from the newer member states, he too faces questions over Poland’s non-membership of the single currency. The issue of currency does not arise in the case of former Estonian premier Andrus Ansip, whose country joined the euro in 2011.

Other contenders from the ranks of former leaders include one-time Finnish premier Jyrki Katainen, who has signalled his interest in the job.

However, Finland’s hardline alliance with Germany and the Netherlands in the response to the euro zone debt emergency remains a problem for crisis-struck countries.

Euro group presidency

It remains unclear this position will be filled at this time, although the appointment could be used as a bargaining chip. The incumbent is Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who is a contender for the powerful economics portfolio in the new European Commission.

Should Dijsselbloem depart for the Commission, Spain is pressing hard for the euro group post to go its finance minister Luis de Guindos. Other contenders for the euro group position also include former French finance minister Pierre Moscovici.

Although Moscovici too is in the running for the economics job in the commission, Germany has questioned his suitability for either post in light of budget difficulties in France.