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EU Leaders Starting to Pick Bloc's Top Chiefs


British Prime Minister Theresa May, foreground, walks by as EU leaders sit for a dinner meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, May 28, 2019.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, foreground, walks by as EU leaders sit for a dinner meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, May 28, 2019.

European leaders are in Brussels to choose their preferred candidates for top European Union positions after last week's parliamentary elections, but already are divided on who should be the next president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation bloc.

The term of Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the commission ends in October. But Germany and France, two of the biggest economic forces on the continent, are at odds on who should replace him, a choice that must be ratified by the 751-member parliament when it assumes power in July.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel favors fellow countryman Manfred Weber, who has led the conservative European People's Party group, the biggest in the EU assembly, since 2014. The EPP, even as it lost seats in the parliamentary elections, still constitutes the largest bloc of lawmakers and her support for Weber is in line with past practice in picking a European Commission president from the leading party in the parliament.

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​But the big centrist blocs in parliament will lose their majority in the new legislature, with nationalists and Greens gaining ground, leading to a more fragmented assembly and possibly more difficulty in picking a consensus nominee for president of the commission, which proposes EU laws and enforces them.

French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters he favors a nominee with "experience either in their country or in Europe that allows them to have credibility and savoir faire," an apparent attack on the 46-year-old Weber, who has never served in government or a major institution like the commission.

Macron suggested two alternative nominees, Denmark's Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition since 2014, and Frenchman Michael Barnier, who has led the EU's so-far unsuccessful negotiations with Britain over London's Brexit effort to divorce itself from the EU.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez suggested a fellow socialist, Dutchman Frans Timmermans, saying he "has the qualities and the experience."

The European leaders are also picking a new leader of the EU Council, a body that defines the European Union's overall political direction and is now headed by Poland's Donald Tusk; the European Central Bank, now led by Italian Mario Draghi and a new foreign policy chief, currently Italian Federica Mogherini.