Is the tug of war over top posts harming the EU?

Marathon talks aimed at settling the allocation of top EU posts have been taking place since Sunday. The election of Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans as EU Commission President seemed almost certain before Italy and the Visegrád states opposed it. Whether this Tuesday's discussions will bring a decision seems doubtful. Commentators voice concern about the effects of the back and forth on the EU's reputation.

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Sme (SK) /

Dominated by national egoisms

Sme laments the absence of a spirit of compromise:

“So far the 'national' red lines which are making it impossible to establish a balance between the interests of the various countries have clearly dominated. One of the major culprits here is Macron. Without the enormous pressure he's applied, the opponents of the 'lead candidates' would never have dared to ignore the article in the Treaty of Lisbon stipulating that the choice of the Commission president should reflect the EU election results. As far as Macron is concerned, the German Weber doesn't have what it takes to manage the EU. The V4 states, in turn, reject Timmermans due to his attitude in the migration crisis. ... A fatal rift between the institutions looms large should the EU Parliament select its leader without the prior agreement of the European Council.”

Večer (SI) /

A fatal message to the rest of the world

Večer voices concern about the image the struggle over the top EU posts is projecting to the rest of the world:

“If in the distribution of the highest posts what least counts is the candidates' competence, we really can't expect our partners across the globe to take Europe seriously. With these marathon negotiations we are simply showing the rest of the world how divided the EU member states really are. Yet division is a weakness Europe can least afford in the modern, globalised world. ... Only a united Europe can deal on equal terms with the major powers on the political global stage.”

Der Standard (AT) /

This show must not be repeated

Der Standard demands that the undignified haggling over posts must have consequences:

“Instead of using the momentum of the positive new mood after the EU elections the heads of state and government have lapsed into a ghastly competition to destroy and prevent progress. ... If the Council and the Parliament don't want to further harm the EU the first task they give the new EU Commission must be to present a new joint EU electoral law and a transparent process for appointing top EU staff. This will be the most important task of the new commission president: he must radically democratise the EU. A show like that we are witnessing today in Brussels must not be repeated.” (BG) /

Six of one, half a dozen of the other

It really makes no difference which party the EU Commission president belongs to, sighs:

“For a long time now the real rift in Europe hasn't been between the conservatives and the left, the EPP and the Social Democrats. It's not even about issues like immigration, the environment, competition, etc. ... No, it runs between the old players and the new. ... That became particularly clear the day after the European elections, when Verhofstadt proposed a 'broad-based coalition' made up of (take note!) the EPP, Social Democrats, Alde and the Greens. Why these parties? Well, because together they make up 67.11 percent of seats or 504 of the MEPs, meaning that they could go on living hand in hand in the lap of luxury as they have in the past. And any nationalists, Eurosceptics and other exotic contenders could put that in their pipe and smoke it.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Parliament squandering newly won trust

So far the EU Parliament has not cut a good figure when it comes to filling the top EU posts, the Süddeutsche Zeitung criticises:

“The MEPs risk gambling away the new trust expressed by the high voter turnout. If the various groups had quickly rallied around one of the lead candidates, it would have been far more difficult for the heads of state and government to call this principle into question. ... In any event the voters have got the message now: I cast my ballot, then it's ground to pieces in the machinery of the EU institutions. And it's entirely possible that at the end of the day a candidate who didn't even run will end up as boss.”

Kapital (BG) /

EU politics more thrilling than ever

Those who thought EU politics was boring and who longed for more suspense and intrigue are now getting their money's worth, Kapital writes:

“Politics in Brussels was long seen as a boring, undemocratic game in which decisions are taken in the dark corridors of the EU institutions. 2019 looks set to change critics' minds. True, the decisions about who gets the five key jobs in the EU are still taken behind closed doors, but the fights aimed at pushing through national interests, keeping the wheels of European bureaucracy spinning and ensuring fairness among member states are all being fought in public.”

Atlantico (FR) /

Franco-German row could bolster the EU

The tug of war between France and Germany over the future EU Commission president could ultimately strengthen the EU, political scientist Christophe Bouillaud writes in Atlantico:

“It remains to be seen to what extent the French-German duopoly will deteriorate. Should it come to a real and persistent blockade, it can't be ruled out that such a situation could strengthen the EU by obliging the other countries to increase their engagement. That could make clear that the EU is in fact more dear to EU-critical leaders (for example in Hungary, Poland and Italy) than they let on. ... Since 2008 the management of the EU by various German-French tandems has not been as successful as it used to be.”

Sega (BG) /

Europeans didn't vote for Weber

Manfred Weber is the lead candidate of the EPP but not of Europe's voters, columnist Adelina Marini writes in Sega:

“Weber didn't win the European elections. There are no figures on how many people voted for one of the EPP's member parties simply because because Weber is their lead candidate. CDU and CSU campaign posters in Germany showed the EPP logo, but there was no indication on the ballots that you were voting for Weber if you voted CDU or CSU. In all of the other member states most voters didn't have the slightest idea who the EPP's top candidate was. So the claim that Weber won the European elections and that EU heads of state and government who don't support him are blocking European democracy is false and exaggerated.”

Delo (SI) /

The world won't wait

The prolonged haggling over the candidates for Commission president must end, Delo demands:

“It is questionable whether the European Parliament will play along with Macron and do what the EU heads of government want it to. For some parliamentarians the fact that the centre of power in the EU lies with the European Council is hard to swallow. For the moment there is no sign of a candidate who would be satisfactory for Macron and the others. However, it's not to be excluded that one will emerge in the context of the G20 summit in Osaka. But the constant infighting between the institutions and the lengthy selection process is the last thing the sluggish EU needs now. Because the world won't wait.”

Ethnos (GR) /

A fair compromise is needed

Ethnos explains why Macron doesn't want EPP candidate Manfred Weber to become EU Commission president:

“Macron's veto against Weber's nomination wasn't just a rejection of this candidate. On the one hand it was Macron's response to the rejection of his proposal for a comprehensive reform of the EU and the Eurozone. On the other hand the French president is reacting to the German view that the strongest economy in Europe and the largest group in the EU Parliament, the European People's Party, have a prior claim to the Commission presidency. A good compromise would be to chose someone who doesn't aim to strengthen either Berlin or Paris - or the North or the South - in the European context.”

Mérce (HU) /

Don't dampen citizens' interest now!

The horse-trading over who gets which post is bad for democracy, Mérce writes:

“It's striking that the selection process hasn't become any more transparent than it was in 2014; in fact it's even less transparent now. Despite the fact that after a decade and a half voter turnout in the European elections had finally reached 50 percent again. The reason for this is that the people of Europe feel that the Union's political significance has grown compared with five years ago, and so going out to vote makes more sense. It would be too bad if this trend were to be nipped in the bud by allowing a tiny, reclusive group of obscure insiders to determine who gets which post.”

Público (PT) /

Merkel and Macron must reach a consensus

Berlin and Paris need to start working as a team, journalist Teresa de Sousa comments in Público:

“It is never easy to decide who should lead the EU institutions. A balance needs to be sought in many respects. As always in the EU, it is essential to seek a spirit of cooperation. And clearly it's crucial that the two ends of the Berlin-Paris axis understand each other. ... Merkel and Macron, however, haven't got on with each other so far: Macron is right when he says that Europe needs 'heavyweights' to head its key institutions. But Berlin - used to giving the orders - doesn't seem to feel the same need for this.”

Mediapart (FR) /

A chance for the parliament

Now that the European Council is blocked the EU Parliament can extend its power, Mediapart believes:

“It's no secret that politics in Brussels is far more characterised by wrangling between the institutions (Parliament, Commission, Council) than by the rift between left and right. The paralysis of the Council could now reshuffle the cards, and speed up the 'parliamentarisation' of the EU that many so long for. For that reason the negotiations between four parties - conservatives, social democratics, liberals and greens - which were carried out completely confidentially are decisive for the formulating of a joint programme. They serve as a test.”

Neatkarīgā (LV) /

What if Merkel won't be knitting socks after all?

Neatkarīgā reflects on the speculation surrounding the allocation of top EU jobs:

“We are hearing ever louder voices in the German press and among opinion leaders that when she 'retires' Merkel will not be sitting by the fire and knitting socks, but that she might in fact become president of the EU Commission! This is either a political tactic by the Germans to intimidate Macron, who is pitting himself against Weber, by threatening him with Merkel who no one really can argue with. Or Merkel actually wants to remain at the top of European politics.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

German puppet masters would make things easier

The wrangling for top posts in the EU will take far longer than usual because Berlin is weaker than before, Lidové noviny writes:

“Angela Merkel had a tight grip on the European People's Party through the CDU, while Martin Schulz controlled the European Social Democrats through the SPD. Many saw that as a German hegemony. But for others it was a good thing because it made it easier to reach clear decisions even in an impasse. ... Things are different now. As a result, the leadership debate looks set to last some time. But this debate is also a test run for how to reach agreements under the new conditions in the EU, where conservatives and social democrats are weaker and nationalists and Greens, stronger.”

Kauppalehti (FI) /

Distribute the posts and get to work

The process of distributing the top jobs shouldn't be dragged out unnecessarily, Kauppalehti comments:

“It would be good if the top posts were assigned before Finland's EU presidency begins in July. If the wrangling over who gets which post drags on into the autumn there will be no progress on issues like the fight against climate change or reaching a consensus on the financial framework for the coming years. The easiest solution would be for the heads of state and government to appoint Manfred Weber, the lead candidate of the EPP, the group that emerged as the strongest from the EU elections, as EU Commission president. That would also keep the confrontations with the EU Parliament to a minimum, which has already stipulated that it only accepts one of the lead candidates of the parties.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

Monopoly on top posts has been broken

Mette Fredriksen, leader of the Social Democrats who recently won the parliamentary elections in Denmark, has announced that she backs the candidacy of the liberal EU Commissioner Margarete Vestager. Jyllands-Posten sees this as breaking up the bloc structures in the EU Parliament:

“The elections to the European Parliament have shown that voters continue to back the big pro-European parties, but also that the conservatives and socialists no longer have a monopoly on the attractive posts. There is reason enough to be happy that the liberals have been strengthened, both in the EU Parliament and within the circle of heads of government whose task it is to distribute the posts. Denmark clearly has a strong candidate in this game that has now begun in earnest.”

Denik (CZ) /

Margrethe Vestager is the ideal candidate

Former Danish foreign minister and current EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager is the most suitable candidate for the job, Denik contends:

“She took part in the election campaign as a 'lead candidate'. The Liberals have emerged considerably strengthened from the elections. As a Dane she has a penchant for environmental policy, so she would have no problem accepting the Greens as a new member of Europe's big four. Her nomination could be a compromise in the tug of war between the Parliament and the Council, so that the two sides can bury the axe before the next European elections. The final advantage: An elegant woman would be the EU leader for old men. The union would no doubt be delighted about that.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

Even the name is repugnant

Mariann Öry, Magyar Hírlap's foreign desk editor, has her suspicions about why Macron wants to prevent Manfred Weber from becoming Commission president:

“Emmanuel Macron certainly won't contribute to the efforts to maintain the illusion that the lead candidate system is still alive. The French president despises the whole thing, even the name - 'spitzenkandidat' [in French too] - is German. This procedure that was pushed through by the European Parliament against the wishes of the leaders of the member states is necessarily advantageous for the big party groups. But from Paris's point of view it's not a democracy but a 'partocracy'. And that's annoying for Paris because it's the Germans rather than the French who dominate in both the EPP and the Socialist parliamentary group.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Wanted: charismatic leader

The search for a successor to Juncker must not take too long, Handelsblatt warns:

“The EU is under a huge amount of pressure: it must stand up to the world powers the US and China, deal with climate change and steel itself for future waves of migration, to name just a few of the challenges it faces. To do all this it needs capable leaders. At the EU summit on June 22 it should at least be determined who Jean-Claude Juncker's successor will be. At the same time, however, the EU heads of state and government must not give in to the temptation to nominate a weak Commission president who dances to their tune. The EU needs a charismatic person at its helm who can meet the leaders of China and the US on an equal footing and who has what it takes to convince the people of Europe.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Good prospects for Barnier

The model of the lead candidate has had its day, writes political scientist Cornelia Woll in Le Monde:

“The lead candidate's lack of legitimacy and opposition from the states risk tilting the balance in favour of someone on whom it would be easier to agree - for example Michel Barnier. ... With the Brexit negotiations he became the face of a united Europe. He has the firm support of the French president, and his chances are almost as good as those of the official lead candidates. Then again, even more surprising names are also conceivable, for example Christine Lagarde or Angela Merkel, who announced the end of her chancellorship in 2018.”

Radio Europa Liberă (RO) /

Macron and the new force in the centre

Radio Europa Liberă explains how Macron could stop EPP lead candidate Weber from becoming Juncker's successor:

“The top dogs in the EU have already taken the first steps in the contest for the highest posts in the EU institutions. The task is all the more pressing given that the results of the European elections will make it difficult to establish a balance of power within what looks to be a deeply fragmented Parliament. At the side of the liberal Macron a new centrist force has emerged which, with 109 seats, will be the third-strongest force in Parliament. Already on Monday Macron met with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Europe's most prominent Socialist leader, to discuss a possible alliance. Together they could prevent the EPP's leading candidate from taking the top job in the EU Commission.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Weber's candidacy not optimal

Gazeta Wyborcza explains why Manfred Weber could be left empty-handed:

“If Merkel insists on Weber a long dispute between Berlin and Paris will begin in the EU. ... In addition, it's possible that at the summit the decision will be made that at least one of the key posts - the presidency of the Commission or of the European Council - should go to a woman. The balance between East and West will also play a role in determining the EU leadership. In the discussion about Juncker's successor the Danish EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the French chief negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier and the Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, former EU commissioner and Chief Executive of the World Bank, are all in the running.”

hvg (HU) /

Fidesz is a red flag for Alde

It won't be all that easy for Weber to get the support he needs from the liberal group in the EU Parliament, writes hvg:

“As long as the EPP doesn't expel the Hungarian ruling Fidesz party there will be no cooperation with Alde, according to Pascal Chafin, number two on the list of Macron's party La République en Marche. ... At first it's hard to understand just what kind of cooperation he's talking about. But if you think a step further it's clear that while the EPP is still the strongest group in the EU Parliament, it lost seven percentage points in comparison to 2014. So if Weber wants to be Commission president he'll need backers. His most obvious ally is the liberal group Alde, to which Macron's party belongs and which has won a record 109 seats in the EU Parliament.”