Done deal?

The new President of the European Commission cannot afford to be nominated without backing from Italy.

EU leaders will gather in Brussels on Thursday for a crucial European Council meeting. Last week The Journal compared this process to the secretive Vatican conclave, calling it “Extra omnes” due to its reliance on unspoken rules and unpredictable outcomes.

This week’s European Council forms part of the four scheduled meetings organised annually. While all European Councils generate media interest for their content and decisions, this time around, this Council is a crucial one, as it will decide on the leadership trio: the Presidents of the European Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament. Leaders also have to decide who the next foreign policy chief will be.

News emerged this week that the negotiators of the EPP, the S&D, and the Liberals have agreed on the formula comprising the incumbent Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen (EPP), former Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa (S&D) as Council President, incumbent European Parliament President Roberta Metsola (EPP), and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Renew Europe) as High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

However, as soon as the news emerged of a compromise ahead of the actual European Council, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Italian counterpart, Giorgia Meloni, swiftly dismissed this process. They argued that it disregarded the recent European Parliament elections, where other parties achieved significant gains.

While the vote at the European Council is by simple majority voting, the new President of the Commission cannot afford to be nominated without backing from Italy, an influential member state for political, historical, economic, and cultural reasons.

The only nominee who seems to be in a position to put her mind at rest is the Maltese President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, whose fate depends solely on the parliament’s members – she seems to enjoy wide support within the chamber.

Should, at this summit, EU leaders endorse the agreed formula, then the process will continue with the nomination of Commissioners from the Member States, followed by their ‘grilling’ at the European Parliament, which is expected to start around October. However, should the Heads of State or Government disagree in one way or another, the process is likely to drag on during the summer months.

The summit is also expected to touch upon the issue of Ukraine and the security needs of the Union, apart from discussing the deteriorating situation in the Middle East. Malta already secured a caveat in the text on security that any decision should respect the specificities of Member States. Yet, this subject might also be contentious as not all Member States are singing from the same hymn sheet; some want more investment in defence, others are more frugal and cautious, and others, like Malta, want to ensure that their financial contribution will not end up being used on lethal weapons. Others want to make sure that military procurement should first exhaust the option of the EU defence industry.

Discussions at the European Council meeting kick off Thursday afternoon, but a swift conclusion by Friday remains uncertain. While the agenda, particularly regarding leadership positions, shouldn’t stretch into Saturday, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics.

If leaders agree on the top jobs, EU diplomats can look forward to enjoying their summer holidays. Yet, that will not be the end of the story. The Commission presidency nominee, Ursula von der Leyen, must secure the support of a majority of MEPs, and as the liberal, pro-European party Renew is losing members by the minute, a majority for von der Leyen is not a foregone conclusion.

Photo: Ursula von der Leyen and António Costa (European Council)

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