EU leaders disagree on who should lead the union

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Is the Spitzenkandidat process dead? And if so, who killed him? In 2014 the EU narrowly agreed to a deal whereby the “main candidate” of the largest parliamentary group will become president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. At the European Parliament elections last month most of the main party “families” put forward their nominees. In theory, this would make it easier to allocate various large EU jobs after the election. With the head of the commission elected, as it were, by the voters, leaders could fill the other positions, such as the presidency of the European Council (the group that includes the heads of government of the union) and Central Bank of Europe (ECB), in a way. which created a politically and ideologically balanced portfolio. That was, in fact, the main task of the debate last night at the summit of the European Council in Brussels.

It didn’t work out that way. The summit ended in a deadlock as the Spitzenkandidat system was attacked from various directions. The convention always seemed a bit bleak. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was not a fan in 2014 and was kicked out to support him then. But the story of the current nosebleed begins in Helsinki last November, when the European People’s Party (EPP), the main centre-right group and, as which is currently the biggest force in the parliament, Manfred Weber as the main candidate. Bavaria lacks television charisma, lacks operational experience and has alienated centrists and centre-leftists with his long association with Viktor Orban, Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister. He did not make much of an impact during the European election campaign. A survey published on Tuesday by the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, found that only 4% of voters in France or Germany were motivated to vote by the Spitzenkandidat system.

All this gives the opponents of the system, and Mr. Weber, reason to tear it down. That’s what they went on to do yesterday. Ahead of the summit, the leaders of the second and third largest parties in parliament, the center Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the center Renew Europe (RE, formerly the Liberal and Democratic Alliance, or ALDE), that they were. he would not take it back. That increased his prospects, as the president of an incoming commission needs the support of a majority of the European Parliament.

At the dinner on June 20, eleven of the 27 national leaders who were making the choice (Theresa May of Great Britain is not involved) banned the nomination. An irritated Ms Merkel, who supports Mr Weber, replied in that case that the main candidates of the other groups or the de facto main candidates – that is Frans Timmermans of S&D and Margrethe Vestager of RE – should have the rejection too. This infuriated Mark Rutte, the liberal Dutch Prime Minister, who characterized the stance as unreasonable. But perhaps it was a statement of fact: there is no clear majority in parliament without EPP votes, and the EPP will be reluctant to support another main candidate if their own is rejected.

Without a majority for Mr Weber, Mr Timmermans or Ms Vestager – French President Emmanuel Macron of France said the three were “ruled out” about leaving the summit – no co- there is agreement about a candidate for president of a commission in parliament or council. And without that first building block it is difficult to allocate the remaining large works. So the meeting adjourned in the early hours of June 21 after settling on no nominations. Leaders will meet again on June 30, shortly before the new parliament convenes on July 2 and ahead of the expected vote on the commission’s nominee two weeks later.

Adding to the sense of frustration at the summit was the inability of leaders to agree on a common commitment to a carbon-free EU by 2050, with protests from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia gaining ground.

What’s next for the big jobs jigsaw? Mr Weber is still not completely out of the running but his prospects look bleak. Even Mrs Merkel seems resigned to this, acknowledging that the candidate leaders would have to find a commission capable of leading the broad majority: “We are in no position calling for an emergency with parliament,” she said last night. The German Chancellor is expected to host others at the next debate. One compromise candidate is Michel Barnier, a French EPP politician and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. But other names may be emerging, perhaps at the G20 summit in Japan next week, where several EU leaders will have the opportunity to cut deals before the next gathering in Brussels. One option is for the leaders to park the debate on the commission’s work and settle instead on candidates for the council and the ECB, and then work backwards from there. An unusual theory is doing the rounds that Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, has finally been put forward to lead the commission.

The situation, like the inability to forge a consensus on climate goals, is a sign of the times. Europe is a more fractured place than before, with greater divisions between member states and a more fragmented political landscape both in national capitals and in the European Parliament that ‘ come in (a successful president of the commission may need the support of three or even four groups). to get a majority, where two would be enough). Some member states are more used to this than others. The Netherlands, which has experienced political disruption for a longer period of time, and to a greater extent than most, took seven months to form its last government – as Mr Rutte reminded journalists who was waiting last night, urging patience. Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach of Ireland (prime minister) was not so rude, pessimistic: “It is faster to elect the pope.”

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