Germany's Merkel and France's Macron are already in disagreement over top EU job

While Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right alliance might have won the most seats in the continent-wide ballot, President Emmanuel Macron pointedly did not mention support for Manfred Weber, the official German candidate.
While Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right alliance might have won the most seats in the continent-wide ballot, President Emmanuel Macron pointedly did not mention support for Manfred Weber, the official German candidate.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, AFP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's pick Manfred Weber arrives in Brussels on May 28, 2019.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's pick Manfred Weber arrives in Brussels on May 28, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) - With the race for the top jobs in the European Union heating up, Chancellor Angela Merkel ran into an early diplomatic setback as her German pick for the presidency of the bloc's executive arm got roundly snubbed.

Her centre-right alliance might have won the most seats in last weekend's continent-wide ballot but its official candidate - Manfred Weber - failed to get much traction among the 28 leaders gathered in Brussels to begin what could be months of horse-trading over who will lead the EU commission and the European Central Bank.

France is pushing Michel Barnier to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the commission, capitalising on the respect that the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator commands across the continent.

President Emmanuel Macron signalled he would also accept Dutchman Frans Timmermans, or Danish EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager but pointedly did not mention Weber.

Merkel is a veteran of such rounds of haggling and has been the front and centre of all major political battles since coming to power in 2005 - and indeed won most of them.

The fight for who will clinch the EU's top jobs has just begun and Weber could be a pawn to be sacrificed in the long game if for example Germany has its heart set on getting the ECB job for the first time.

EARLY DAYS

For now leaders are testing the waters and what has emerged is that Weber may be an early casualty.

In addition to France, other European countries such as Hungary and Greece have signalled their strong opposition to his bid.

Hungary's strongman Viktor Orban has called him a "weak" leader, who's "not ready to fight for his own values."

 
 

Merkel is sticking to her man and also signalling to Macron to slow down.

"I will appeal this evening for us to show an ability to act," she told reporters on her way into the meeting.

A German official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Merkel was not impressed with Macron's attempt to crush Weber's candidacy so soon and wants to keep the process open for now.

GERMANY'S TURN

For the past 15 years the European Christian Democrat political family to which Merkel belongs has filled the post of president of the commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws on everything from car emissions to energy pipelines.

The commission also monitors national economies, negotiates trade deals, runs a diplomatic service, manages the bloc's budget and acts as Europe's competition authority.

The only German ever to have sat atop the commission was its first president in the 1950s and 1960s.

Even though Weber is the official candidate of EU's centre-right parties for the commission, Barnier, who belongs in the same group, ran a parallel unofficial campaign in the run up to last weekend's EU elections. The move has sparked anger among some officials in his party who saw it as an act of disloyalty, according to an EU diplomat familiar with the matter.

Unlike Weber, though, Barnier enjoys across the aisle appeal and is acceptable to Eastern countries.

Momentum is also building behind Vestager's liberal bid, as the bloc seeks to fill some of its top jobs with women. Other female candidates for the role include World Bank chief executive officer Kristalina Georgieva.