BRUSSELS: Sleep-deprived European Union leaders adjourned marathon talks until Tuesday amid stalemate over filling the bloc’s top jobs in the wake of May elections that have fragmented the EU political landscape.
The 28 EU leaders are trying to agree on who will steer the bloc over the coming years through the looming challenges of Brexit and the rise of populist parties in Europe.
Despite more than 18 hours of talks since Sunday, they needed more time to debate new proposals to overcome opposition to a Franco-German compromise on who will be the new chief of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.
“We are giving an image of Europe that is not serious,” French President Emmanuel Macron told journalists after the leaders adjourned until 11 am on Tuesday.
With challenges from climate change to illiberal democracy, the EU must reform the way it takes decisions and avoid becoming “hostage” to small groups, Macron said.
After the talks adjourned, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she still “hoped that with good will a compromise will be feasible”.
The compromise Merkel and Macron forged on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan on Saturday called for Dutch Social Democrat Frans Timmermans to head the commission, rather than his conservative rival German Manfred Weber.
Weber would instead be put forward for election as speaker of the European Parliament, where he leads the largest political bloc. A liberal candidate would succeed Tusk as president of the European Council of national leaders.
But when Merkel put this to fellow centre-right leaders in the European People’s Party (EPP) several rebelled, and the summit was thrown into crisis as heads of government shuttled between side meetings late into Monday morning.
The EPP is still the biggest bloc in the European Parliament, but no longer the dominant force it was before the May elections.
The liberals, which include Macron supporters, and Greens are increasingly assertive trying to choose the top jobs after they made huge gains in those elections.
Even though the Social Democrat bloc also lost ground, Timmermans, the commission’s current vice president, emerged as a compromise candidate to head the powerful commission.
“There is a strong consensus for Timmermans but the situation is very volatile. I’m more optimistic than I was three hours ago,” another European source said. The latest idea is to have Timmermans head the commission, and the EPP’s Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian, heading the European Council, several European sources said.
They also want a liberal as the diplomatic chief to replace outgoing commissioner Federica Mogherini of Italy. That could either be Belgian prime minister Charles Michel or Danish politician Margrethe Vestager, who currently oversees anti-trust policy on the commission.
But Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov later told his country’s news media in Brussels that Georgieva was no longer in the race for the council. — AFP