Extra omnes

Will the EU leaders opt for stability?

Meeting in Brussels, the EU leaders have embarked on a crucial process to decide on the appointments for the EU’s top jobs: the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council, and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission (HRVP).
This decision, made at a time of geopolitical turmoil with two ongoing wars in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood – the conflict in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine – holds immense significance. Many speculate that the current Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, will be offered a second term, representing continuity and stability as the EU faces geopolitical challenges on its doorstep.

While the stage is set for a re-appointment and due to the results of the last elections, where both the French and German ruling parties have been weakened, there seems to be little appetite for changing course. A second appointment for Ursula von der Leyen also depends on a vote in the European Parliament, where 361 votes are needed. This should not be taken for granted, as the European Parliament is certainly not a rubber stamp but has a mind of its own.

Last weekend’s proceedings in Switzerland at the Summit for Peace in Ukraine, where leaders called for dialogue with Russia while reiterating their support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, could signal a shift in the West’s approach. The mention of names such as Mario Draghi, an Italian banker and former ECB president, and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the current Greek prime minister, in this context suggests a potential change in the EU’s strategy towards Russia. It is speculated that all Member States will ultimately support Von der Leyen, as she is the main candidate of the European party that garnered the widest support in these elections, the EPP, but the potential implications of this decision on EU-Russia relations cannot be overlooked.

It seems almost certain that the Maltese incumbent President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, who also belongs to the EPP, will be reconfirmed when the Parliament itself elects its chief. Keeping Roberta Metsola at the helm of the European Parliament is also a wise move, given the current geopolitical circumstances, as she is able to ensure that the European Parliament stays in line.

A true shift in EU foreign policy affairs will occur if, as speculated, leaders will opt for the current Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas for the job of HRVP. This would mark a shift to the East, where the current EU efforts to defend its eastern flank will be expected to continue in earnest.

Another post still in question is that of the President of the European Council, with Antonio Costa, former Portuguese Prime Minister, being the main favourite for the post. However, he is still under investigation in Portugal, and while it seems certain he will be offered the post, a week is a long time in politics and nothing can be taken for granted.

The formal decision on who will occupy the Union’s top posts will be sealed at the formal European Council scheduled for the end of the month. The process of selecting the top job candidates resembles that of the conclave in the Vatican when Popes are elected. EU leaders will meet in a hall and no information will emerge of the deliberations except, of course, the few leaks that the Brussels bubble has become accustomed to.

The future of the EU depends on those who will be appointed to lead its main institutions. This time around, there seem to be no surprises planned. However, one Prime Minister has been very quiet lately. Could Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán could well end up once again the kingmaker?

Photo: CFP

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