EU leaders' indecision on European Council president costing taxpayers money

A three-hour delay meant that the choice for top EU jobs was not as clear cut as initally expected, with various EU leaders seen consulting ahead of the official summit which was suspended by current council president Donald Tusk

Joseph Muscat was seen happily exchanging a few words with Council president Donald Tusk at the Europa building forum
Joseph Muscat was seen happily exchanging a few words with Council president Donald Tusk at the Europa building forum

Yet another EU summit proved ambiguous with no consensus reached on who should take the top EU jobs, including the European Council president.

Sunday saw the second attempt at reaching a decision but yet another meeting is scheduled for July 15 as an agreement was not on the cards. The summit was officially suspended by European Council president Donald Tusk. On average, the cost for the General Secretariat of the Council of a one-day summit is about €450,000. The costs include security, catering, and interpretation.

Outgoing European Parliament President Antonio Tajani told EU leaders on Sunday that “as far as the Parliament is concerned, the principle is the lead candidate principle” for choosing the next Commission president.

He said the precedent for this system was set five years ago when Jean-Claude Juncker was elected as Commission president as the EPP’s lead candidate.

“He was the lead candidate of the group that won the election in 2014 and was immediately recognized as the winner,” Tajani said.

At a press conference, Tajani said he told the Council as well that the Parliament will soon elect its own president “irrespective of what Council decides.”

The new Parliament begins its first plenary session in Strasbourg on Tuesday until Thursday. On Wednesday, MEPs are set to elect a president, after which they’ll also pick 14 vice presidents and five quaestors of the house. They’re also set to decide on the number and composition of Parliament’s standing committees.

A delay of close to three hours for the European Council summit on Sunday saw a lot of informal consultations between various EU leaders.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was seen exchanging pleasantries with European Council president Donald Tusk at the Europa building forum ahead of the meeting. 

READ ALSO: Europe’s top posts and Muscat’s chances

The Council was to decide EU's top jobs in today's summit, with socialist Frans Timmermans originally expected to take Tusk's place. However, sources and journalists inside the building confirmed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative European People's Party had rebelled against the proposal that would install a social democrat as Commission president.

Merkel, arguably the most influential EU leader is known to support the Spitzenkandidat process, which might see conservative Manfred Weber as Commission president. 

The idea to install Frans Timmermans, a social democrat, as European Commission president cropped up at a G20 Osaka summit. The idea was to then hand the Parliament presidency and the foreign affairs chief to the conservatives, Tusk had told the delegates. 

However, putting forward the liberal candidate Margrethe Vestager for the EU's top post or chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier were two other possibilities.

Following Osaka, Timmermans faced staunch opposition tonight as Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters ahead of the summit that there's a lot of opposition within the EPP to Timmermans obtaining the presidency.

“As EPP, we haven’t agreed to the package that was negotiated in Osaka. I think it’s fair to say there’s a lot opposition to the proposal that was made in Osaka from the EPP’s point of view,” he said. “The vast majority of the EPP prime ministers don’t believe that we should give up the presidency of the Commission quite so easily, without a fight.

“I think we’re here for a long night and it’s not certain by any means that we’ll have a solution. It’s better to make a right decision than to make a quick decision," he said.

On the other hand, Parliament President Antonio Tajani stressed that it was the EPP that won the European election.

“If there is a Spitzenkandidat as president of the Commission, the winner is the EPP. This is nothing against the socialists, nothing against [Frans] Timmermans. He is a good man," he said. 

The Visegrad 4 countries—Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia— also made their opposition to Socialist candidate Frans Timmermans clear in a series of meetings with western European leaders. Diplomats representing these countries said that, however, they looked "warmly" upon Vestager and Barrier. 

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had previously spoke unambiguously about his thoughts on Timmermans as he told Sky News on Saturday that Italy would not support him.

"We’ll surely not support a left-winger at the European Commission," he said on live television. 

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was more cautious despite rabble-rousing Salvini's take, saying simply that Timmermans is a candidature that Italy would look at. 

Italy and the Visegrad 4 countries alone would not be able to block Timmermans candidature, especially if the United Kingdom decides not to abstain. However, other EPP leaders have already evinced dissension at the popular socialist's name and his candidacy suddenly looks a remote possibility. 

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted how she was catching up on a cricket match while she was in Brussels for the summit.

The summit dinner originally scheduled for 6pm started at 9pm.