Tuesday, July 23, 2024

EU summit: agreement to reappoint van der Leyen as Commission president – 06/28/2024 at 02:02


European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen holds a press conference in Brussels on June 28, 2024 (AFP / JOHN THYS)

EU leaders at a summit on Thursday agreed to give Ursula van der Leyen a second mandate as head of the commission and entrusted European diplomacy with a stronger voice on Ukraine, Estonia’s Kaja Kallas.

Despite strong opposition from Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the agreement on key EU positions was quickly concluded.

Ursula von der Leyen’s re-appointment must be confirmed by an absolute majority of MEPs: “There is one more step (…) I will seek the approval of the European Parliament after submitting my political map for the next five years,” the German conservative leader stressed.

The outcome of the referendum, expected in mid-July, is uncertain, with the usual coalition of conservative, socialist and liberal MEPs weakened following the June election.

Heads of state and government chose Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas – a staunch opponent of the Kremlin – to show the face of EU diplomacy in the wake of the war in Ukraine. The 47-year-old liberal will succeed Spain’s Josep Borrell.

Estonia’s Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, elected by European leaders as head of EU diplomacy, speaks at a press conference in Brussels on June 28, 2024 (AFP / John THYS)

“This is an enormous responsibility in these times of geopolitical tensions, with war in Europe and growing instability in our neighborhood as key challenges,” replied Ms Gallas, whose position must be vetted by MEPs.

“Caja Gallas understands the risks from Russia and Belarus,” congratulated Donald Tusk, head of the Polish government.

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Finally, former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa was appointed as the new president of the Council of Europe, the body that unites member states. A year after his resignation over a scandal that ultimately proved disastrous, the socialist, known as a skilled tactician and pragmatist, will succeed Belgian Charles Michel in December.

– “Very quick decision” –

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen speak at a press conference in Brussels on June 28, 2024 (AFP / JOHN THYS)

The three candidates are widely favored following an agreement on Tuesday between six European leaders, including France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholes, from a right/social-democrat/centrist “grand coalition” in the wake of European elections.

Mr. Scholz hailed a “very quick and forward-looking decision” on Thursday, reversing the difficult designation process that divided the twenty-seven five years ago.

However, Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán slammed the “disgraceful” arrangement on Thursday: “European voters have been deceived. (The traditional right) has formed a coalition of lies with the left and liberals,” he said on the way to the summit.

Giorgia Meloni, head of the ultraconservative Italian government, lamented the exit from the talks between the three political groups and denounced an “oligarch”.

“Their proposal is wrong in method and substance, I do not support it out of respect for citizens and the signal they have in the European elections,” he said at the end of the summit. He did not vote, according to a diplomatic source.

However, many leaders were eager to save her: if her support was not needed – no consensus needed -, politically her voice counted.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the end of the European Summit in Brussels on June 28, 2024 (AFP / Ludovic MARIN)

“I think there is a broad consensus and then I believe a path (will be found): I absolutely respect the position of Georgia Meloni representing an important country,” underlined Emmanuel Macron.

– Orban’s Beliefs –

Like Viktor Orban, Ms. Meloni also wants to exert more influence over the choice of a future executive in Brussels, following the rise of the extreme and far-right during European elections this month. The Italian leader’s ECR group took third place in the European Parliament from French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist family.

Rome is seeking “at least” the vice-presidential post of the European Commission, an “important portfolio” to influence industrial and agricultural policy, according to its Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.

The meeting of twenty-seven people took place three days before snap legislative elections in France, in which the National Rally (far right) is largely in the lead.

Asked whether the election “cast a shadow” over the EU, Viktor Orbán said instead that it had brought “sunshine”, believing “great things will happen on Sunday (in France)”.

For his part, European sources said Emmanuel Macron wanted to reinstate Thierry Breton as a French member of the commission during a meeting with his liberal allies. Since 2019, he has been Commissioner for the Internal Market, a broad portfolio that includes digital and industrial.

In front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, April 12, 2024 (AFP / Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD)

The leaders of the twenty-seven on Thursday approved a “strategic agenda” that sets out the bloc’s priorities for the next five years, emphasizing security, safety, competitiveness and the fight against irregular immigration.

In other key EU posts, Malta’s conservative Roberta Metzola is favorite to win a second two-and-a-half-year term as president of the European Parliament in Strasbourg in mid-July.