The Irish Times view on the EU top jobs: Franco-German power on full display
For Emmanuel Macron, the outcome of this week’s wrangling could scarcely have been better
The durability of the Paris-Berlin motor, led by President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel, was the most striking thing about the list of nominees agreed by EU leaders for five key positions in the institutions. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA
Football, Gary Lineker said, is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans always win. This week, we were reminded that backroom deal-making in the European Union is a simple art: 28 leaders argue amongst themselves for three fraught days and, in the end, the Franco-German axis always wins.
The durability of the Paris-Berlin motor was the most striking thing about the list of nominees agreed by EU leaders for five key positions in the institutions. In Ursula von der Leyen and Christine Lagarde, the two most important posts – president of the European Commission and the European Central Bank, respectively – will, assuming their nominations are ratified, be filled by women from Germany and France.
For Emmanuel Macron, the outcome could scarcely have been better. All five nominees are French speakers. Lagarde takes arguably the most important position, while Charles Michel, the incoming president of the European Council, is a close ally of Macron’s. Von der Leyen was one of the French president’s preferred candidates. And by seeing off Manfred Weber, the European People’s Party (EPP) nominee for the commission presidency, he succeeded in burying the Spitzenkandidat process while weakening the EPP itself. To cap it all, with the appointments of Josep Borrell as foreign policy chief and David-Maria Sassoli as parliament president, Macron has five leaders in place who broadly share his EU reform ambitions.
It was a more ambiguous outcome for Angela Merkel. She was initially portrayed as one of the losers of the week’s negotiations, largely on account of a rebellion amongst EPP colleagues over a compromise she proposed last weekend that would have made the Dutch socialist the next head of the commission, but the ultimate outcome may be even better for her than that deal wouldhave been. Any leader who has signalled a timetable for her own departure loses some authority, but still Merkel secured the commission for a German and the top job in Frankfurt for one of Berlin’s favourite Frenchwomen.
Moreover, the eastern European states that torpedoed her Timmermans proposal ended up with nothing of their own: no politician from the east is among the five nominees.
For Ireland, the line-up is broadly positive, and promises continuity over rupture on Brexit – by far the most important issue facing the island in the coming months. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar may nevertheless come to regret becoming the de facto public spokesman for an EPP rebellion against a figure as inoffensive as Timmermans – a move that annoyed Merkel and did not in itself serve Ireland’s interests in any appreciable way yet delighted the xenophobic authoritarians in Poland and Hungary.