June 28, 2019 / 8:38 PM / 6 months ago

EU leaders decide against Weber for Commission presidency: report

BERLIN (Reuters) - European Union leaders have agreed that conservative German candidate Manfred Weber will not become president of the bloc’s executive Commission, Germany’s Die Welt daily reported on Friday, citing sources familiar with the decision.

FILE PHOTO: Manfred Weber, member of the Bavarian Christian Democrats (CSU) and lead candidate of the European Peoples' Party (EPP) in European parliamentary elections, speaks at a news conference in Munich, Germany, May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert/File Photo

The decision was reached during talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Die Welt said.

If confirmed, the compromise would be a blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had backed Weber’s bid to replace Jean-Claude Juncker.

French President Emmanuel Macron had opposed Weber’s candidacy, partly because of his lack of experience in high office.

EU leaders failed at a summit earlier this month to agree on who should hold the bloc’s top jobs after European Parliament elections last month, including on the Commission, which has broad powers on matters from trade to competition and climate policy.

Weber is the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), the conservative bloc that won most seats in the election and which includes Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

A senior European diplomat told Reuters that socialist Dutchman Frans Timmermans, a deputy head at the Commission, was the front-runner to succeed Juncker.

“Timmermans is the best placed,” the diplomat said.

The EU’s 28 national leaders will meet on June 30 to decide who fills the five prominent positions that would help the bloc navigate through internal and external challenges.

‘TOO EARLY’

The jobs include the presidency of the European Central Bank, which has helped the bloc’s economy return to growth after the financial crisis thanks to an extraordinary monetary stimulus programme.

Asked whether there had been an agreement on other top jobs, the European diplomat, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, said: “It was a bit too early to say, especially for the ECB.”

The bloc’s economies are struggling again and its leaders are grappling with emboldened eurosceptic parties, security challenges from Russia, economic competition from China and trade frictions with the United States.

Weber’s critics see his lack of experience leading a government as an issue and highlight his lack of charisma needed to unify a bloc facing strains over issues such as whether to be more closely integrated, and how to tackle migration and Brexit.

Political groups in the European Parliament have been discussing a coalition agreement and a pro-EU majority is in the works between the centre-right EPP, the socialists, the liberals and the greens.

The EPP, the parliament’s largest multi-country faction, has so far stuck with Weber.

Timmermans would be unpalatable to eastern EU states such as Hungary and Poland because of his role in the bloc’s rule of law probes against their nationalist governments.

EU sources told Reuters earlier this month that Merkel’s condition for eventually dropping Weber could be that no other candidate proposed by the European Parliament, or no other French person, gets to lead the Commission either.

That would rule out the bloc’s Brexit negotiator and centre-right Frenchman Michel Barnier, who has long run an unofficial campaign.

Other names in the game include Belgium’s liberal caretaker prime minister, Charles Michel, Bulgaria’s World Bank head Kristalina Georgieva or Lithuania’s outgoing President Dalia Grybauskaite.

Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Belen Carreno; Editing by Tom Brown

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