Decisions on top European posts bound for August 30
Predisposed to joust, the 28 leaders of the EU met in Brussels in the context of the informal meeting of the European Council, on the 16th and 17th of July. They did not succeed in arriving at a compromise over the personalities that will assume the much sought-after top positions of the Union.
“My conclusion was that we are not yet at the point where we can get a consensual solution on a full package of appointments”, said the outgoing president of the Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy. “The European Council will take decisions on the whole package at our next meeting on 30 August”.
The basic disagreement that led to the impasse of the consultation was related to whether the Italian Foreign Minister, Ms. Federica Mogherini, will ultimately take over the position of foreign policy chief of the European Union (in place of the British Catherine Ashton). The 41-year-old candidate was faced with the reaction especially of the Baltic countries, due to the country’s “close links” with Russia and “lukewarm” position on the Ukrainian issue. On his part, Mr. Matteo Renzi vigorously supported -although without the anticipated outcome- before his counterparts his expectation that the Italian minister assumes this top office. In addition, in case that the new president of the Commission is not willing to offer her this neuralgic portfolio, Mr. Renzi demanded that this is made clear the soonest possible, so that he avoids to “sacrifice” Ms. Mogherini. Similarly, the position of head of the Eurogroup was the subject of much debate and pressures, although it seems that Mr. Jeroen Dijsselbloem will retain his position unless he is offered the position of Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs.
According to a senior government official, the newly elected president of the Commission, Mr. Jean Claude Juncker was particularly annoyed by these “poker-like” negotiations, while he pointed out to the “28” that the appointment of new commissioners is his own responsibility and, thus, he would not tolerate an appointment through bargaining but rather on the grounds of merit.
In any case, the work of the new head of the European Commission will not be an easy one, given the numerous criteria that have to be met in order for the complex equation embracing 28 members to be solved. The compromise must maintain the balance between the interests of small and major member-states of the EU, between the North and the South, while at the same time taking into account particular partisan criteria, as well as the gender quota that provides for the participation of not less than nine women in the new Commission. As far as the partisan background is concerned, the prime minister of Malta pushed for the position of president of the Council to be assumed by a Socialist, a request that the German Chancellor undertook to respond to, by saying that the Socialists will be offered the position of the High Representative, along with the first half of the presidency of the European Parliament, whereas regarding the Council, “our logic should not be based on partisanship but rather on worthiness”.
Sanctions to Russia
Despite their disagreements on the issues concerning the appointment of top officials, the “28” seem to have agreed on foreign-policy-related issues and, more specifically, on further extending sanctions to Russia as a means of addressing the crisis in Ukraine. According to the Council decisions, the companies that support pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, either through funding or supply of materials, will henceforth be subject to criminal penalties. In addition, Russia will not receive any further funding from the European financial institutions, whereas the European Commission shall freeze the financing of Russian infrastructure works from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction.
After the meeting, Chancellor Merkel told the reporters that the Russians are to blame for escalating the conflict, saying that Moscow has ignored the ultimatums that were issued during the previous EU Summit, which was attended by the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. “The EU is disappointed and regrets having to take such substantial measures vis à vis Russia”, said the Chancellor, but, “unfortunately too little has happened since the visit of President Petro Poroshenko and in response to the unilateral ceasefire announced by him”.