Game of EU thrones nears finale

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The EU's "game of thrones" is nearing an end after the naming of a new president and diplomatic chief, with the rest of the incoming Brussels regime set to be decided in coming weeks.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU's executive body, will unveil his new team in early September, aiming to strike a delicate balance of politics, geography and gender.

The two top roles were filled on Saturday when Polish premier Donald Tusk was appointed president of the European Council - which brings together the leaders of the 28 EU states - and Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini was named head of the foreign affairs service. But with key economic jobs up for grabs in a team that will dictate European policy for the next five years, member states are still battling behind the scenes for a bite of the cherry.

And the EU is almost as in thrall to historical rivalries and power struggles as the fantasy world of the cult US television show, "Game of Thrones". Next week, Juncker will meet each country's nominee as he finalises his team for the European Commission.

Belgium has yet to name a candidate as it is locked in negotiations to form a coalition government. But other countries are ahead of the game.

France looks set to win the prized economic affairs job for its former finance minister Pierre Moscovici.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel dropped her opposition to Moscovici despite Berlin's struggles to get Paris to keep to budgetary rules, German weekly Der Spiegel reported.

Bulgaria staked its claim on Sunday for its outgoing humanitarian affairs commissioner Kristalina Georgieva to win one of the other key posts after she lost out to Italy's Mogherini for the foreign affairs brief.

Meanwhile, Britain's hopes of a major economic post were boosted after Mr Tusk on Saturday pledged to work to keep it from leaving the EU, after a planned referendum in 2017.

Prime Minister David Cameron's opposition to the appointment of the federalist Juncker, combined with the low profile of British nominee Jonathan Hill, had previously been thought to have killed off any chances of a plum job, but the Sunday Times newspaper reported that Mr Hill could now get the financial services portfolio.

Mr Juncker is then expected to name his team on September 9 or 10, according to EU officials. But the choices are fraught with pitfalls.

Regional rivalries have mostly been dealt with, as Mr Tusk's appointment will please newer eastern members and Mr Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg, will see that smaller countries are represented. But politically, Europe's centre-left will want more important portfolios after winning only one of the top three jobs in the form of Italy's Ms Mogherini.

Gender is also a problem, with member states so far ignoring Mr Juncker's call to nominate more women, and Mr Juncker saying he may compensate by giving more major portfolios to women.

The next hurdle comes in September and October when the European Parliament grills the candidates. It may try to flex its muscles by knocking back controversial nominees. Finally, on October 20-23 parliament will vote on the whole line-up.

Socialists have threatened to veto any commission with less than the nine women in the current set-up. The new commission takes office on Nov 1, while Tusk succeeds current European Council president Herman Van Rompuy a month later.

The last piece of the puzzle falls into place in mid-2015 with the naming of the head of the Eurogroup, the club of finance ministers from the 18 nations that use the euro - which is Mr Juncker's old job.

Spain's Luis de Guindos, a conservative backed by Berlin, is expected to take over from social-democrat Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Netherlands. But Dutch premier Mark Rutte has suggested Mr Dijsselbloem may try for another term, setting up another battle.