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EU appointments 'puzzle' hinges on Italy as key economic jobs up for grabs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The president-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is waiting for Italy to propose its candidate before deciding the composition of the bloc’s new executive and its top economic positions, EU officials said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Distracted by talks to form a new government after a summer political crisis, Italy is the only member of the 28-nation bloc still to put forward a candidate for the next commission. Britain has said it will not name a commissioner as it plans to quit the EU.

Among key positions that will need to be filled is the post of economic commissioner, which was split between two men in the current executive, whose five-year term ends on Oct. 31.

The choice for that post will signal whether the new commission will push for more public spending and focus less on balancing budgets, which some see as necessary given stalling growth in Germany, the largest EU economy, which has historically been hostile to expansionary fiscal policies.

Immediately after the EU summit in July at which von der Leyen was chosen to head the new commission, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Rome had been offered the competition portfolio.

With Germany and France wanting the bloc’s anti-monopoly rules to be softened to help European industrial champions compete with rivals from China and the United States, competition is another top job.

An EU official said on Monday that final decisions on appointments would depend on the name put forward by Rome, a political “heavyweight” in the bloc and set to become its third-largest economy after Britain leaves.

Italian officials said a candidate could be announced in the coming hours, adding that foreign minister Enzo Moavero and former prime minister Paolo Gentiloni are among the most likely choices -- assuming a new government is formed.

Each EU nation has a commissioner but appointments rest with the commission president.

A spokeswoman for the Commission said on Monday that all pieces of the “puzzle” were needed before jobs could be decided, adding that candidates were still being interviewed.

Poland’s Krzysztof Szczerski, a close aide to Polish president Andrzej Duda, withdrew his candidacy after a first round of interviews with von der Leyen. Warsaw has proposed former EU lawmaker Janusz Wojciechowski in his place.

Candidates chosen by von der Leyen will be vetted by the European Parliament, which must accept or reject the entire commission before it takes office in November.

Although lawmakers cannot reject commissioners-designate, political pressure after unsuccessful hearings has led some would-be commissioners to withdraw in the past.

Von der Leyen has said she wants an equal number of male and female commissioners in the next executive. Twelve women are among the 25 candidates publicly announced so far.

Additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni in Rome and Radu-Sorin Marinas in Bucharest; Writing by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by John Chalmers and Catherine Evans