Tusk busy sounding out preferences for top EU jobs

Europe Letter: broad agreement expected at leaders’ summit, yet some issues have the potential to provoke major rows

 Donald Tusk: “I remain cautiously optimistic as those I have spoken to have expressed determination to decide swiftly.”  Photograph: Reuters/Kacper Pempel

Donald Tusk: “I remain cautiously optimistic as those I have spoken to have expressed determination to decide swiftly.” Photograph: Reuters/Kacper Pempel

 

Angela Merkel will on Thursday meet Emmanuel Macron in Brussels on their way to the latest European summit. On their agenda is the vexed matter of who should be appointed next European Commission president.

Elsewhere in the city a group of six prime ministers, the “co-ordinations” elected by EU leaders from the three main European Parliament parties, will also meet again to broker an agreement on how to share out the EU top jobs.

The task has been allocated to Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic and Latvian prime minister Krisjanis Karins, representing the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP); Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel, representing the camp formerly known as the Liberals – now rechristened Renew Europe, to embrace Macronistas; and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and Portugal’s António Costa, representing the Social Democrats.

In the European Parliament a separate group of MEPs from the same parties (plus the Greens) will publish a joint programme of activities for the next parliamentary term – evidence, they will argue, that although no party has a majority, there is a broad pro-Europe majority in the parliament and that they should be allowed to put their man, Manfred Weber, into the top job.

Weber’s party, the EPP, will be having its own summit later in the morning, as will the Socialists and Democrats, the parliament’s second group.

European Council president Donald Tusk has been on the phone repeatedly to every capital sounding out preferences not only for the European Commission job but for his own job, the presidency of the European Central Bank, and the high representative for foreign and security policy. 

Only after all of that does the summit begin.

Optimistic

Each of these separate parallel strands expects to contribute to the final decisions which, Tusk hopes, will be made on Thursday night at the summit over dinner.

“I remain cautiously optimistic as those I have spoken to have expressed determination to decide swiftly. I hope we can make it on Thursday,” he told leaders on Wednesday in his letter of invitation to the meeting.  

Sources close to him were on Wednesday stressing Tusk’s determination to achieve an outcome, and saying the issue could be taken up again on Friday.

Others have warned of the likely need for another summit before the European Parliament convenes on July 1st.

My own prediction, for what it is worth, is that whenever it happens Michel Barnier, the chief Brexit negotiator and an EPP nominee, will get the commission job; Socialist Dutch commission VP Frans Timmermans will become high representative; Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann will get the ECB post; and Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite will get Tusk’s job.  

Two of the main parties placated, Germany satisfied, one woman for gender balance, and a position for an eastern European state.

Diplomats

Separately, diplomats in Brussels have been poring over the final declaration of the summit. As usual there is broad agreement, although a couple of issues could provoke potentially major rows.

A small minority of states are blocking a decision to commit the EU to carbon neutrality by 2050. EU officials are confident, however, that the required unanimity will be achieved by December.

There is disappointment at the failure to back the opening of negotiations on accession with North Macedonia and Albania, who have both fulfilled the criteria set out by the commission. There are concerns that refusing to even open talks will send destabilising signals about the EU’s long-term willingness to bring them in, and fail to reward North Macedonia in particular for its difficult compromise with Greece over its name. The leaders will agree to try again in October.

The debate on the euro zone also promises to be lively, with some fiscally conservative states determined to thwart attempts to create funding outside the EU budget for a new euro zone budget.

Brexit will be touched on briefly on Friday after the economic debate. Tusk and European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker will report on progress and, in the only response to the Tory leadership race, Tusk is expected to repeat the standard mantra that the withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation. Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Barnier will have a bilateral meeting on Thursday.  

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