EU parliament rallies around lead candidates for top job

Brussels: Top EU lawmakers insisted on Tuesday that the next European Commission chief should be one of their party candidates, boosting the standing of Germany’s Manfred Weber, while paving the way for a stand-off with EU leaders.
European Parliament elections last week have triggered a contest for the successor to commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. EU leaders were meeting later on Tuesday for their first stab at the issue.
Weber is the lead candidate for the centre-right European People’s Party, which came first in the EU-wide polls, despite suffering heavy losses.
Under the so-called system of Spitzenkandidaten, introduced in 2014 to boost interest in the EU elections, the candidate put forward by the best-performing group in parliament should have first dibs at the top commission job.
However, Weber’s candidacy has not been wholeheartedly embraced by EU leaders, with French President Emmanuel Macron in particular opposed to the Spitzenkandidaten system.
A majority of political group leaders underlined their commitment to the system in a statement on Tuesday, “so that the next commission president has made her/his programme and personality known prior to the elections and engaged in a European-wide campaign.”
However, the liberal ALDE group, the third largest in the new legislature and home to Macron’s party, was not on board. Under EU rules, national leaders nominate the commission president, but their choice requires majority backing in parliament.
The parliamentary leaders did not single out any preferred candidate on Tuesday.
Complex negotiations are under way, with Weber requiring a majority of at least 376 lawmakers in the 751-seat parliament. At very least, he would need the backing of the second-largest party, the Socialists and Democrats, as well as the Greens, in order to succeed.
“The European People’s Party is ready for all the necessary compromises,” Weber said on Tuesday. “We are ready to talk now with everyone.”
But the Socialists are backing their own lead candidate, commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. The Greens have made overtures at other parties, with co-leader Ska Keller praising Margrethe Vestager of the liberal ALDE group as a rare female candidate.
Later on Tuesday, EU leaders were expected to hold their own first attempt at hashing out the bloc’s top appointments.
Besides the commission president, other vacancies include European Council President Donald Tusk’s successor, the European Central Bank chief and the next parliament president. — dpa