Summit of European leaders to focus on filling EU’s top jobs
Varadkar to be in discussions on EU’s strategic agenda for the next five years
The main disagreement on filling senior European Commission posts is between France and Germany over the presidency of the commission. Photograph: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Reuters
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar travels to Brussels on Thursday for a summit of European leaders focussed on filling the EU’s top jobs for the next five years, but with little expectation that they will reach an agreement.
Mr Varadkar will also discuss a varied agenda with his counterparts including the EU’s strategic agenda for the next five years, climate action, the forthcoming EU budget and international affairs.
Although the leaders will have an informal discussion on Brexit on Friday it is the first summits for some time that will not be dominated by the question of the UK’s departure from the EU.
However, the leaders are expected to reiterate their position that the withdrawal agreement concluded with British prime minister Theresa May, which was rejected by the House of Commons, will not be renegotiated with a different prime minister.
Mr Varadkar will meet the chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday before the summit discussions on Brexit, with an increased focus likely over the coming months on no-deal preparations in Ireland.
The UK is due to leave the bloc on October 31st. Given that Boris Johnson, the leading candidate to replace Mrs May, has pledged to leave on that date with or without a deal, the EU is likely to seek an intensification of no-deal preparations, especially in Ireland.
Mr Varadkar spoke to Mrs May about the talks on restoring powersharing in the North by telephone on Wednesday, with sources reporting no sign of a breakthrough being in sight.
It is the filling of the EU’s top jobs that will command the attention of most of the heads of state and government gathering in Brussels. They must choose someone to lead the European Commission, the EU’s central civil service and policy powerhouse, to succeed Jean Claude-Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg whose five-year term ends in October.
They must also agree on the next president of the European Central Bank and a successor to Donald Tusk as president of the European Council – who will chair what is the EU’s most important decision-making body.
The job of high representative for foreign affairs and the president of the European Parliament, though less important, will also feature in the deal-making between the national leaders and the leaders of the European Parliament groups.
The principal disagreement is between France and Germany over the presidency of the commission. German chancellor Angela Merkel has backed her compatriot and party colleague Manfred Weber, who was the lead candidate – or “spitzenkandidat” – for the European People’s Party (EPP) during the recent European elections.
His nomination is opposed by French president Emmanuel Macron, who is said to favour the lead candidate for the liberal group, Margrethe Vestager, or Mr Barnier, who is also French, though he comes from the EPP political family.
Brussels insiders say there will be a furious period of horse-trading in advance of the summit, but diplomatic and official sources on Wednesday night were sceptical that enough groundwork had been done by the opposing groups to put the foundations of a grand deal – which would allocate all the jobs – in place.
Dublin is expected to re-nominate the current Phil Hogan for another term as Ireland’s commissioner, though sources said that an announcement was unlikely before the top jobs were filled. However, a number of countries have already announced they will re-nominate their commissioners, often in the hope of securing an important portfolio in the next commission.
In a statement issued from Government Buildings, the Taoiseach said he looked forward to discussing climate action with fellow leaders.
On Brexit, Mr Varadkar said “it would be a serious political miscalculation and a misunderstanding of how the European Union works to think that a change of UK prime minister would change this”.
“We are, of course, prepared to amend the political declaration on the future relationship,if the UK position evolves. At home, the Government is continuing its intensive preparations for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.”