Stockholm (Ekonamik) – The meeting of EU leaders in Brussels Thursday to determine the bloc’s top jobs – the first time they are all open at the same time – was preceded by “cautious optimism” that the posts would be filled swiftly, according EU Council President Donald Tusk, who was tasked with presenting a list of names for the meeting Thursday. The working dinner will, however, be characterised by likely long, difficult and secretive negotiations.
It is still unlikely the leaders will be able to agree on nominations to lead the EU Commission (EC), the EU Council of Ministers, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the EU High Representative (foreign policy) all at once, which must be approved by the European Parliament (EP), a consequence of the divided EP election last month, which saw the largest parties lose ground and advances for the Greens and Liberals.
There is still no consensus in the EP on who should be the next Commission president, the most powerful post currently occupied by Jean-Claude Juncker, with the European People’s Party, the European Socialists, the Greens and Renew Europe (formerly ALDE) all trying to build a majority coalition. The EPP (and German Chancellor Angela Merkel) are still pushing their candidate Manfred Weber, citing the EPP’s position as the (still) largest party, which is opposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to back either a French or a liberal candidate.
The main candidates each have their drawbacks. Mr Weber lacks executive experience, and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager (Denmark), the Liberal candidate who has been talked about as a possible compromise candidate, is facing increasing resistance as the summit approaches. Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans (Netherlands), the socialist candidate, may not be able to gather support beyond his S&D party and possibly lacks the bargaining chips despite support from several major European countries. Other names being mentioned are Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier(France), World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva (Bulgaria), and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
One thing that might determine the Commission outcome with be the trade-off with which country is awarded the presidency of the ECB. The main contenders are the (somewhat controversial, abroad) German hopeful Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, French contenders Banque de France Governor François Villeroy De Galhau and ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure, Dutch Central Bank chief Klaas Knot and Finnish Central Bank chief Olli Rehn.
As the post is most likely to go to either a French or German candidate, and with Emmanuel Macron pushing mostly for the Commission Presidency, Mr Weidmann appears at this stage to be the frontrunner. Along with the politicking threatening Mr Weber’s Commission chances, “the worldwide hiatus in normalisation of central banks’ unconventional monetary policies, starting with the Federal Reserve, has diluted Weidmann’s propensity towards monetary hawkishness,” said David Marsh, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF), a think tank. “This is reducing resistance from other European countries opposed to the Bundesbank’s policy orthodoxy, such as over the ECB’s massive purchases of government bonds under quantitative easing.”
This leaves the jostling for the other Commission posts, the presidency of the European Council, where the main prerequisite is executive experience (probably precluding e.g. Ms Vestager), and the EU High Representative. All new posts save for President of the European Parliament will be assumed by October or November, and a new EP President will be elected when the Parliament convenes in early July. Should the leaders fail to reach agreement at tomorrow’s summit, Mr Tusk is likely to call for another EU summit next week in accordance with the objective of having the posts filled by the time the new Parliament convenes.
Image: Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel (Frankfurter Buchmesse 2017) (Wikimedia Commons)