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Top jobs on EU leaders’ menu, with von der Leyen in pole position

EU leaders are expected to keep Ursula von der Leyen on as European Commission chief, even though France faces domestic political turmoil with upcoming snap elections
EU leaders are expected to keep Ursula von der Leyen on as European Commission chief, even though France faces domestic political turmoil with upcoming snap elections - Copyright AFP Omar AL-QATTAA
EU leaders are expected to keep Ursula von der Leyen on as European Commission chief, even though France faces domestic political turmoil with upcoming snap elections - Copyright AFP Omar AL-QATTAA
Marc BURLEIGH and Raziye AKKOC

EU leaders gather Monday in Brussels to thrash out over dinner how to distribute the bloc’s top jobs, with Ursula von der Leyen seemingly on track for a second term heading the European Commission.

Far-right gains in EU-wide elections, which triggered snap polls and political upheaval in France, appear to have focused minds around the positions at the bloc’s helm — negotiated among its members with an eye to geographic and political balance.

While leaders are expected to formally make their choices known at a June 27-28 summit, a consensus already appears to be emerging. 

“I believe things can move forward efficiently. At least that is my wish, and that will be my frame of mind on Monday,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at the end of the G7 summit last week in Italy, where he held talks with both German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and von der Leyen.

Scholz sent a similar message, telling ARD television that “a political majority is coming together” and that “things could be decided fast”.

Monday’s meeting kicks off at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) in von der Leyen’s presence — but the commission chief will leave before dinner, when leaders are to tackle the matter of top jobs.

Von der Leyen’s European People’s Party (EPP) was the biggest winner in the June 6-9 EU Parliament elections, cementing the German conservative’s bid for five more years helming the executive body of the world’s second-largest economy.

The other roles to be decided are president of the European Council, which represents member states and is currently filled by Charles Michel; and the “high representative” — the EU’s foreign policy chief — currently Josep Borrell.

The second group in parliament, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), have their sights set on the Council position, with Antonio Costa, Portugal’s 62-year-old former prime minister, seen as the front-runner.

Costa resigned after becoming embroiled in a corruption probe, but the case has since appeared to come apart, and diplomats suggest it is unlikely to stand in his way.

The high representative position could go to Kaja Kallas, 46, current premier of Estonia and an outspoken Kremlin critic — in a strong signal to the EU’s east.

A fourth job is in play: that of European Parliament president, decided by the legislature, not the leaders. It is likely to return the incumbent, the EPP’s Roberta Metsola, 45, for another two-and-a-half-year term.

– Macron and Scholz weakened –

To secure the nod from EU leaders, von der Leyen, 65, needs support from a “qualified majority” of 15 out of 27 countries, covering at least 65 percent of the bloc’s population.

A dozen leaders come from her EPP political grouping — but she also needs to win over Macron, from the centrist Renew Europe group, and Scholz of the S&D. 

Both leaders of the French-German axis at the heart of the European Union have emerged weakened after being beaten by far-right parties in the EU Parliament elections.

Most spectacularly, in France the National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen trounced the party of the president, who now faces the prospect of the RN’s leader — the 28-year-old TikTok-friendly Jordan Bardella — potentially becoming his prime minister.

Scholz meanwhile is resisting calls to also call snap elections since his party scored its worst-ever EU vote result, behind the far-right AfD and, in first place, the opposition CDU-CSU bloc.

Conversely, the elections strengthened the hand of Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, who diplomats suggest may want to let the dust settle in the new EU parliament — where her far-right party’s grouping gained seats and may yet gain more — and negotiate accordingly.

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, meanwhile, tweeted ahead of the talks that he wanted Europe to be “decisive and strong in matters of security, migration, rule of law and defence” — and that the bloc’s biggest eastern power would defend those priorities in the top jobs negotiations.

– Parliament hurdle –

If, as expected, von der Leyen ultimately pockets enough leaders’ votes, she can set about choosing her commissioners — drawn from each of the EU member countries, with consideration for gender balance and political affiliation.

But she will have one more hurdle to pass.

The new European Parliament has to approve leaders’ picks and proposed commissioners.

Most lawmakers from the EPP, which holds 190 seats in the incoming 720-seat parliament, will endorse von der Leyen, but she will need support from elsewhere to secure a majority.

That would likely come from the other mainstream political families, the S&D and Renew, or from the Greens — but von der Leyen has also been covering her bases by courting Meloni on the hard right.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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