Friday 23 August 2019

Summit suspended as EU leaders unable to agree on new president

Rejected: Frans Timmermans. Photo: REUTERS
Rejected: Frans Timmermans. Photo: REUTERS
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

A special Brussels summit to choose the next president of the European Commission was suspended late last night as leaders failed to agree on a candidate for the EU's top job.

The meeting of heads of government from the 28 EU member states was halted temporarily after a proposal to back the Socialist candidate Frans Timmermans was rejected by the European Parliament's largest grouping, the European People's Party (EPP), of which Fine Gael is a member.

The suspension was called to allow European Council President Donald Tusk to hold a series of bilateral meetings in a bid to break the impasse.

Though the negotiations were expected to resume in the early hours of this morning, there was already talk of EU leaders reconvening again in a fortnight's time.

The proposal to nominate Mr Timmermans for the presidency appeared to be in trouble following an earlier meeting of EPP leaders, who were sharply divided over his candidacy. Under the plan, the EPP candidate, Manfred Weber, would instead become European Parliament President and Frenchman Francois Villeroy de Galhau would become head of the European Central Bank.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on his way into the EU leaders' summit that the proposed compromise hammered out by German, French, Dutch and Spanish leaders at the G20 summit in Osaka had been rejected by the majority of prime ministers in the EPP.

"I think it's fair to say there is a lot of opposition to the proposal that was made in Osaka. From the EPP's point of view, the vast majority of EPP prime ministers don't believe that we should give up the presidency of the commission quite so easily, without a fight," he said.

While Mr Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister, is said to have more or less had the backing of western European heads of government, there was opposition from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. These countries oppose Mr Timmermans because, as EU Commissioner with responsibility for Rule of Law, he has been critical of them.

Mr Varadkar added: "A lot of the countries from central and Eastern Europe are very much opposed to the proposal that Timmermans be president...largely because they believe it will further divisions between east and west. So I think we're in for a long night..."

Irish Independent

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