MEPs insist on their role in appointing commission president

Little confidence at agreement on selection amid clear blocking minorities

Acknowledging the deadlock over appointments to the EU's top jobs, European Parliament president Antonio Tajani suggested to leaders they should follow the example of the election of Pope Gregory. The cardinals were walled up and locked in until they made a decision, he said in the traditional pre-summit address to leaders.

In case journalists might take the suggestion at face value, Mr Tajani explained it was a “humorous aside”, and went on to strongly defend the parliament’s role in the process, notably the importance of the public accountability involved in the spitzenkandidat system.

The system, under which parties presented a “lead candidate” in the European elections who would be their nominee for the European Commission presidency, is under strain as several leaders reject what they regard as the MEPs’ presumption.

Spitzenkandidat ‘dead’

France's president, Emmanuel Macron, on his way in to the summit, which is supposed to name candidates for four top EU posts, said the spitzenkandidat system was "dead" and announced himself a champion for gender equality – his liberal group, now renamed Renew Europe, is promoting competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

The nominee of Mr Tajani's European People's Party, Manfred Weber, looks increasingly beleaguered. He was told formally by the leaders of Renew Europe and the Socialists and Democrats that they could not support his nomination for the commission presidency.

As leaders came in to the summit, few expressed confidence they would reach agreement on Thursday evening. At the moment there are clear blocking minorities in the European Council for any candidate. Leaders vote on the top jobs by "super- qualified majority" – a vote of 72 per cent is necessary for a victory.

Carbon neutrality

Arturs Krišjanis Karinš, the Latvian prime minister and one of the two EPP leaders on the leaders “co-ordinators” committee of six, said the European Council was “ways away” from any deal and expressed frustration at his colleagues who rejected candidates for the top jobs.

And on one of the other controversial issues on their agenda, the desire to commit the union to carbon neutrality by 2050, there was also clear dissent with Polish prime minister Mateus Matowiecki telling journalists that coal-dependent Poland will not support going beyond commitments on carbon emissions made in Paris.

The latest draft of the summit conclusions talks only about a commitment to study how to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Leaders agreed to prolong by six months sanctions against Russia introduced in response to the annexation of Crimea and Sebastopol.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times