The end of Spitzenkandidat: EU leaders concluded unexpectedly on EU top jobs

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EC, received Ursula von der Leyen, German Federal Minister for Defence.
Date: 09/04/2015. Location: Brussels – EC/Berlaymont. Photographer: Georges Boulougouris. © European Union, 2015. Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

The EU leaders finally came to a conclusion after three long days of tough negotiations where German Chancellor’s suggestion to appoint Frans Timmermans as next European Commission president has been turned down by Italy and eastern countries. The solution was given with the nomination of a woman and particularly German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

But the gender equality tactics continued last night when the EU leaders chose Christine Lagarde, the French managing director of the International Monetary Fund, as the first female European Central Bank (ECB) president. They thus unlocked the critical situation on deciding about the EU top jobs. As regards the remaining senior positions, Belgian prime minister Charles Michel was selected to be the next president of the European Council while Josep Borrell, Spanish former foreign minister, the new foreign policy chief.

Unexpected EC nomination

The fierceful three-day negotiations ended with an unexpected outcome. The Spitzenkandidat or “lead candidate” procedure has not been respected by the bloc’s leaders rejecting the nomination of Manfred Weber as the next EC president and for the first time in the history of the European institutions there are expected to be two women in the leading positions of the European Commision and the European Central Bank.

However, the EU leaders found common grounds on Ursula von der Leyen after having rejected Angela Merkel’s proposal to nominate Dutch Frans Timmermans to the most powerful job in Brussels. Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia opposed to that suggestion insisting that Mr Timmermans was not suitable for this job. More specifically, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said yesterday that: “We have said that we do not want Mr Timmermans as European Commission president for various reasons. It is unacceptable for us, it would be total catastrophe.”

Germany and France support Ursula von der Leyen

The two most powerful economies in the Old Continent have been struggling to find a compromise and the right candidates for the EU top jobs. After marathon talks, it seems that Germany and France endorse the result even if it was not the one initially proposed. Donald Tusk mentioned after the conclusion of the summit that Germany had abstained on Ms Von der Leyen’s nomination over coalition issues but the German Chancellor had backed her up. In detail, Angela Merkel said: “It is important that we were able to decide with great unity today, and that is important because it’s about our future ability to work.” French President Emmanuel Macron pointed that the nominations were “the fruit of a deep Franco-German entente”.

Moreover, the selection of Ms Von der Leyen to replace Jean-Claude Juncker was also supported by Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Without the consent of the Visegrad 4 bloc, Ursula von der Leyen would most likely have had the fate of the Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans. Hence, it seems that the EU balances are now shifting and Germany and France are not imposing their will to the other member states as in the past.

EU top jobs candidates

The EU leaders not only managed to nominate the next EC president but also appointed the remaining EU top positions. Christine Lagarde is going to be the successor of Mario Draghi as head of the ECB leaving Washington and the International Monetary Fund where she has been exercising her duties for the last eight years. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar mentioned after the female nominations: “That’s a very important statement that Europe leads on gender equality. It might have taken three days, but it’s a good outcome overall”.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was chosen to lead the European Council in the place of Donald Tusk whereas Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell will become high representative for foreign policy. However, the nominations of the EC President, the European Council President and the EU foreign foreign policy chief will have to be corroborated by the European Parliament which convenes today to elect its President.

All in all, the long duration of the summit where tough negotiations took place between the EU heads of state, combined with the extreme pressure to reach an agreement has showed that Germany and France are not the only players in the EU arena.

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