National leaders begin to share out top European Union jobs

Ursula von der Leyen expected to secure backing for second term as commission president

German chancellor Olaf Scholz fields media questions during an informal meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Monday. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

National leaders of the 27 European Union member states met in Brussels to start trashing out the allocation of several senior positions, in their first summit since the recent European elections.

A “consensus” was emerging among leaders to back Ursula von der Leyen for a second term at the head of the European Commission, said Taoiseach Simon Harris.

Speaking on his way into the meeting of leaders in Brussels on Monday evening, Mr Harris said it was important a decision on nominating figures for the senior roles did not drag on for “weeks on end”.

Leaders kicked off negotiations over dinner to decide who would be put forward as their pick for the next commission president, foreign policy envoy, president of the European Council, and president of the European Parliament.

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Also on his way into the summit, German chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was important the discussion over who would be named commission president was settled without delay. “It is important for a decision to be made quickly because we are living in difficult times and it is important to know what the future holds for Europe,” he said.

Meanwhile, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would be supporting Dr von der Leyen for another five years.

A formal vote to back candidates for the top EU jobs will likely only take place at a full two-day summit later next week. If Dr von der Leyen is formally nominated by a qualified majority of leaders, she will then need to be approved by a majority of MEPs.

The previous governing coalition of her centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and centrists Renew won 406 of the available 720 seats in the European Parliament. However, some parties within the three parliamentary groups have indicated they will vote against Dr von der Leyen, meaning the vote would likely be tight.

Taoiseach, Simon Harris, addressed the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland urging leaders to stand with Ukraine "for as long as it takes".

National leaders also discussed possible appointments for several other key EU roles during the dinner.

Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas is in the frame to become the EU’s top foreign affairs chief. The 46-year-old politician from Tallinn is the leader of the liberal Reform Party, which sits within the centrist Renew group in the European Parliament.

Ms Kallas has won acclaim within the EU as one of the most steadfast supporters of Ukraine since the Russian invasion in early 2022. Polish prime minister Donald Tusk said he would back Ms Kallas for the role, as she understood “the Ukrainian and Russian realities very well” and took a similar position to Poland on the war.

Former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa is tipped to become the next president of the European Council, replacing Charles Michel.

Mr Costa, who led the centre-left Socialist Party, was prime minister of Portugal from 2015 until late last year. He was forced out of office amid a big corruption scandal that rocked his government, although he was not personally charged with any crime.

Slovenian prime minister Robert Golob said he would support Mr Costa for the council presidency, which is traditionally a consensus-building role.

Other names that have been in the mix for senior positions include Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen, and Alexander De Croo, who is caretaker prime minister in Belgium after his party suffered a heavy defeat in recent federal elections. Roberta Metsola, the centre-right Maltese politician, is widely expected to be put forward for another stint as president of the European Parliament.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times