Sunday 25 August 2019

Summit of EU leaders underway amid renewed hope deal to appoint new European Commission president close

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Pool via REUTERS
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Pool via REUTERS
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

A MUCH-DELAYED summit of EU leaders is underway in Brussels this evening amid renewed hope that a deal to appoint a new European Commission president is close.

Germany’s defence minister Ursula von der Leyen has emerged as the favourite to become the next European Commission president as part of a package of appointments that would fill a number of top EU positions.

Ms von der Leyen, who would be the first female president of the Commission, is being backed by the European People’s Party, the political grouping which Fine Gael is a member of, and, significantly, the Visegrad 4 countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic) who earlier blocked a plan to nominate Socialist Frans Timmermans for the role.

Ms von der Leyen would need the approval of the European Parliament which is holding its first meeting since the recent European elections in Strasbourg today and is due to hold a vote on the Commission presidency tomorrow.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is said to be still open to backing Timmermans, whom he met in Brussels last night, but there is as yet no indication that he ultimately will.

Ministers have been told that tonight's cabinet meeting in Dublin has been postponed as a marathon EU summit is keeping Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Brussels. The meeting has now been moved to Thursday morning.

READ MORE: Brexit MEPs turn their backs on European anthem as protests mar opening of parliament

On his way into this morning’s summit, Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel said the EPP “had a bug” which he hoped had been resolved overnight. “For me it’s more important what they will do for the next five years. I am sure we will have a breakthrough, I hope the EPP had a good reboot during the night and the system is working,” Mr Bettel said.

Mr Varadkar arrived at the summit at around 11am but did not speak to the media on his way in.

New names emerging this morning as possible candidates for the Commission presidency, include the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, a veteran of the institutions in Brussels, and Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s defence minister. Both are part of the EPP.

Leaders are also trying to agree on a package to fill the top jobs in the European Council, Parliament and Central Bank as well as the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs.

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