EU summit fails to reach deal on top jobs

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy give a press conference at the end of council meeting on July 16, 2014 at the EU Headquarters in Brussels. AFP PHOTO / GEORGES GOBET

BRUSSELS: EU leaders failed to reach agreement as their summit ended early Thursday over who should get the top jobs to steer the 28-nation bloc over the next five years.

The outcome was “unfortunate but not dramatic,” said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who stands down later this year. “My conclusion was that we were not yet at the point where we could get a consensual solution on a whole package,” Van Rompuy said after the talks dragged on into the early hours Thursday.

There will be another summit on Aug. 30, he said, adding he was “certain that ... we will reach a decision” then.

Early hopes for a decision on who would replace Britain’s Catherine Ashton as foreign affairs head, a coveted high-profile job, faded from the start, putting the summit in immediate difficulty.

Without agreement on this key position, finding a new president of the European Council, which represents the 28 national leaders, became even more difficult.

Rejecting suggestions of a setback, Van Rompuy said such decisions took time, adding that once Ashton’s replacement was named, “this will all fall into place quite quickly.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had played down expectations any decisions on appointments would be made even before leaders sat down at the summit table. At the close of the meeting, Merkel said she was “fully confident we will get there, step by step, stage by stage.”

“It is better to not have a deal because it’s not yet possible to agree on a whole package of nominations,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite as she left the meeting.

Grybauskaite had made clear from the start that Lithuania, along with the other Baltic states and Poland, would not accept the early favorite, Italian Foreign Minister Frederica Mogherini, as Ashton’s replacement.

For them, Mogherini was too inexperienced while Rome has been too soft on Russia over the Ukraine crisis and too anxious to protect its important economic ties with Moscow.

Diplomats had said an alternative to Mogherini could be current EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, who is close to the center-right European People’s Party, the biggest single group in the European Parliament. As Mogherini’s chances faded, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tweeted: “What does Italy ask for? Not one post or another, it asks for respect.”

For the European Council, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a Social Democrat, enjoyed wide support, including from Britain, to replace Belgium’s discreet but effective Van Rompuy. Denmark is not a member of the eurozone, a drawback especially for France.

Other names mentioned included conservatives Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and former Latvian premier Valdis Dombrovskis. Estonia’s Andrus Ansip, who stepped down this year, or Dutch premier Mark Rutte would suit the centrist Liberals.

Kenny declined, saying: “I have enough on my plate already!”

Once the top jobs are settled, then the EU embarks on the next round, deciding on portfolios in the new 28-seat European Commission.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 18, 2014, on page 11.




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