EU leaders must reconvene to complete top jobs appointments

Too many differences make agreements elusive at Brussels summit

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the summit in Brussels on June 20th, 2019. Photograph: Olivier Matthys

From late morning on, the prospects of another EU summit of “top jobs” became increasingly inevitable. Leaders emerged from party caucuses shaking their heads: no deal likely. One group, the centre-right EPP, is reported even to have decided that no decision would be taken.

Two groups, the Socialists and newly named liberals Renew Europe, told the lead candidate for the European Commission president's job that they would not support him. Emmanuel Macron, France's president, announced that the "spitzenkandidat" system, the European Parliament's means of leveraging leaders to accept their nominee, was "dead".

EU Council president Donald Tusk continued his frenetic networking – he met or talked to every one of the 28 PMs ahead of Thursday's summit. No sign of compromise. Members of a special subcommittee of leaders charged with brokering a deal spoke of an agreement being a long way away.

So when they sat down for dinner on Thursday night, with the top jobs the only item on the menu, plans were already being put in place for another summit. Many of the leaders will be in Osaka next week at the G20 summit so it will have to be after that, but before the European Parliament picks its own president. On July 1st, they will all be back.


The leaders were also engaged in important internal EU housekeeping, with discussions on a strategic agenda for the European Union for the next five years, setting out the broad political directions for its work programme and on hastening the debate on the union’s next budget, the MFF.

Romanian claims

There has been some concern that Romanian claims to have decisively advanced the budget debate by clarifying options have been overstated and that the next presidency, Finland, has a lot of heavy lifting to do to broker agreement. The aim is to have a real political debate on the broad outlines of an agreement at the summit in October.

The strategic agenda marks a shift in priorities from those in the end-of-crisis 2014 document, with a new focus on asylum, refugees and security of borders, leading the digital revolution in research and enterprise, and on climate change. In a pointed rejoinder to US president Donald Trump’s rejection of multilateralism, the EU reiterates it as a core value.

The same process is under way in the European Parliament, where a group representing the four main parties is also due to publish a work programme for the parliament that is reported to dovetail closely with the European Council priorities – evidence, MEPs say, of the advisability of incorporating some of its leadership at the top of the commission.

Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sanchez was among those at the summit in Brussels on June 20th.Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq

The climate issue provoked a lively debate on Thursday led by the French, who want the EU to commit to net carbon neutrality by 2050 on top of its 2030 emissions targets. Nine states joined France at the Sibiu summit in May endorsing the call, which now has near-unanimous support, including recently from Ireland.

The summit conclusions saw the date 2050 moved to a footnote, an EU official told Politico, to reflect not a commitment to the target but an aspiration to reach it. By December leaders hope to strengthen their position.

Poland and coal

Those reluctant to support the call include some eastern Europeans like Poland which have been traditionally coal-dependent, as Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki made clear on his arrival here.

To win their support, France has argued that there must be acknowledgment and assistance through the next MFF of special transition problems and a sharing of the burden by the union. Poland’s reluctance to embrace burden-sharing when it comes to housing asylum seekers notwithstanding.

To that end the French want a “greening” of the MFF budget, with up to 40 per cent dedicated to climate-related projects. The commission is currently proposing only 25 per cent.

Leaders agreed to prolong by six months sanctions against Russia introduced in response to the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. And they instructed the union's diplomatic service, the EEAS, and the commission to come up with proposed measures to take against Turkey over its illegal drilling in Cypriot waters.

The leaders also endorsed the decision of European affairs ministers not to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia yet. Despite strong desires to reward the Macedonians for their resolution of the name dispute with Greece, and strong support from the commission, which says both countries have made significant reforms, leaders pushed the issue of accession back to the autumn. Then they may be treated separately – a diplomatic coup for the Macedonians.

On Friday morning the leaders will convene as a euro zone summit to discuss completion of monetary and banking union projects. After which they will get a short report from the commission on the state of play on Brexit preparedness – no-deal planning – and on the British Tory leadership election.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times