Horse-trading for EU top jobs starts over dinner

Manfred Weber will face resistance from European leaders to become president of the European Commission despite the European People’s Party being the largest in the new parliament

Joseph Muscat (top) will have an eye on one of the top posts but much depends on the horse trading that will be going on over the next few weeks; Manfred Weber (below) could face resistance to get the European Commission's top job
Joseph Muscat (top) will have an eye on one of the top posts but much depends on the horse trading that will be going on over the next few weeks; Manfred Weber (below) could face resistance to get the European Commission's top job

Joseph Muscat will be joining leaders from other European countries for an informal dinner in Brussels this evening where key EU vacancies will be discussed.

The Maltese Prime Minister is interested in running for one of the top jobs but much depends on the geo-political horse-trading that will go on between country leaders and the heads of European political groupings.

The informal dinner hosted by European Council President Donald Tusk will kick off a month-long consultation period.

Tusk has said that he would like the European Council to nominate new EU leaders by the next summit in June.

Tonight’s dinner will see EU leaders discuss the European Parliament election results.

Key posts up for grab include president of the European Commission, president of the Council, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and the president of the European Central Bank.

EU council president Donald Tusk wants decisions on the top jobs to be taken by the end of June
EU council president Donald Tusk wants decisions on the top jobs to be taken by the end of June

After last month’s summit in Sibiu, Tusk had said the process will follow the rules set down in the Treaties but he also indicated the balancing act that will have to take place. “It should reflect geographical balance as well as demography, so that both large and smaller countries are represented in the highest positions in the EU.”

A decision that could be expected tonight is whether to ditch the Spitzenkandidat system for the choice of European Commission president.

This would mean that the EPP’s Manfred Weber could lose his chance of becoming European Commission president despite his party emerging as the largest force in the EP.

Weber’s candidacy does not enjoy support among heads of government, with Hungary publicly declaring its opposition to his nomination.

The Spitzenkandidat system was designed to give the European Commission president broader appeal by choosing the lead candidate of the largest party in the European Parliament.

However, the Spitzenkandidat system has no basis in EU law and the council is not bound by it when it chooses the Commission president.

“EU leaders are likely to reject the system because Weber does not enjoy much support in council and although the EPP is the largest party, the socialist-liberal-green coalition is much larger. Heads of government are more likely to propose Michel Barnier or Margrethe Vestager for the role,” sources close to the talks told MaltaToday.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier could become European Commission president
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier could become European Commission president

Barnier, a conservative, led the Brexit talks on behalf of the EU, while Vestager was the EU's Danish competition commissioner.

The liberals led by French President Emanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte are pushing for their own candidate instead of Weber and Malta is likely to support the move.

Macron met Spanish socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Paris yesterday and the pair are meeting again today for lunch with liberal Prime Ministers Mark Rutte and Charles Michel of the Netherlands and Belgium, respectively, and Portuguese socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

The liberals are the third largest force in the European Parliament and are considered to be kingmakers, along with the Greens.

Muscat’s chances

Muscat has set his eyes on the role of Council president instead of Tusk but much depends on what key posts go to the Socialists and Democrats.

And even in this eventuality, Muscat may have to battle it out with other pretenders from the socialist party, including their lead candidate Frans Timmermans.

The next best role would be EU foreign minister instead of Federica Mogherini, a role the socialists had settled for five years ago.

If the stars align and Muscat is the S&D candidate for foreign minister, he will have to nominate himself as Malta’s European Commissioner.

Unlike five years ago when Muscat had announced Karmenu Vella’s nomination for the European Commission in April, this time around, no such decision has yet been made.

What are the milestones ahead?

  • Between 20 and 21 June the European Council will decide on key positions
  • 1 November, the new president of the European Commission, the new high representative of foreign affairs and the new president of the European Central Bank, take office
  • 1 December, the new president of the European Council takes office

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