Who will be the next president of the European Commission?
Deadlock in Brussels as leaders spar over nomination of Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans
A European Council summit to choose the next European Commission president has been suspended, as three days of talks between leaders ends in deadlock.
The EU’s chief lawmakers are meeting in Brussels to decide who will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker in the role, and had “hoped to get a deal on Sunday night”, the BBC reports. But by Monday lunchtime, the talks remained deadlocked between the supporters and the opponents of controversial Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans, Juncker’s current deputy and the current front runner to take over.
The row over Timmermans will resume when EU leaders meet for further discussions on Tuesday morning. The Guardian reports that the right-wing populist governments of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - a bloc known as the Visegrad Group - are “looking likely to try to block the appointment” of the socialist, who has been a “strident critic of populist governments weakening independent judiciaries”.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said that Timmermans “is not a candidate of compromise” but rather “a candidate who divides Europe”.
The European People's Party (EPP), the largest party group in the EU, attempted to break the impasse on Sunday by putting forward a compromise package that would see German conservative Manfred Weber take the top job, potentially splitting the five-year term with Belgian liberal Guy Verhofstadt.
But according to Deutsche Welle, citing sources close to EU officials, Weber has been eliminated from the race after failing to secure enough support from EU leaders and the various European party groups. The newspaper adds that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who endorsed Weber, has “already accepted the decision”.
One of the most high-profile opponents of Weber’s accession to the top job is French President Emmanuel Macron, who is believed to be in favour of a more liberal candidate such as Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition commissioner, The Daily Telegraph reports.
Europe’s ever-growing Green block would reportedly support a solution that puts Timmermans in charge of the commission and Weber leading the parliament, Euractiv reports.
The London-based news site says that other names in the hat include Belgium’s liberal caretaker PM Charles Michel, Bulgaria’s World Bank head Kristalina Georgieva or Lithuania’s outgoing President Dalia Grybauskaite.
The Telegraph adds that EU officials are “keen to avoid the decision going to a vote”, but adds that “if one was to go ahead, it would need 21 countries representing 65% of the total EU population of 500 million to pass”.
The Guardian notes that Theresa May, in Brussels for the final time as the British PM, will be left in a “potentially awkward position” if certain blocks follow through with their endorsements of the various candidates. The newspaper calculates that if it goes to a vote and Italy decides to side with the Visegrad Group in blocking Timmermans, the UK would wind up casting the deciding vote despite simultaneously attempting to sever its ties with the EU.
Bookmakers show that despite spending much of 2019 as the favourite to succeed Juncker, at 2/1 odds, Weber has since dropped to fourth place at 7/1, according to Smarkets. Ahead of him in third place are Vestager and Barnier at 4/1, while Timmermans remains in pole position at 3/1.