EU leaders fail to break their impasse over Commission, ECB presidents

European Union leaders attending a summit in Brussels, Belgium, on June 20, 2019.
European Union leaders attending a summit in Brussels, Belgium, on June 20, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) - European Union leaders failed to agree on a series of high-level appointments, leaving investors in the dark over who will head the EU Commission and the European Central Bank going into next year.

Summit talks in Brussels ended in deadlock in the early hours of Friday (June 21) amid a stand-off between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron over who should lead the EU's executive.

The three formal candidates for the job were discounted by the leaders, as they failed to win enough support, EU officials said. The EU will hold another summit on June 30 in a fresh bid to reach a decision.

A deal on the commission, which proposes rules and supervises the EU's vast single market, is seen as a precondition for an agreement on the other top jobs which become vacant this year, including the ECB.

Dr Merkel and her centre-right allies insisted that they should claim the post as the biggest bloc in the next European Parliament. But Mr Macron's liberals and most centre-left governments said that Dr Merkel's nominee for the role - Mr Manfred Weber - lacks the experience and qualifications for the bloc's most powerful post.

"We're not quite at the point where I'd wish us to be," Dr Merkel told reporters after the talks. "Now we have to take the situation as it is."

The European Parliament returns from election recess on July 2 and leaders will see their room for manoeuvre restricted if the assembly elects its own president before they reach a decision. The head of the Parliament, like the commission chief and the ECB presidency, are part of a bundle of jobs that need to strike a balance between different parties and different groups of countries within the bloc.

 
 

Any nomination for the commission is subject to approval by the Parliament and a broad alliance between mainstream parties is needed to approve any appointment.

At stake is whether the next central bank chief will continue Mr Mario Draghi's legacy of protecting the euro and its accommodative monetary policy. The role of the commission is also key, as the bloc's executive arm is responsible for trade and antitrust policy at a time when United States President Donald Trump is threatening the EU with punitive tariffs and European companies are seeking mega mergers that will help them to compete with Chinese behemoths.

"It's quicker to elect a pope, very often, than it is to fill these particular positions," Irish Premier Leo Varadkar said on his way into the meeting.