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EU Leaders to Discuss Bloc's Top Jobs  06/17 06:13


   BRUSSELS (AP) -- The 27 leaders of the European Union gather in Brussels on 
Monday evening to take stock of recent European election results and begin the 
fraught process of dividing up the bloc's top jobs, but they will be playing 
their usual political game with a deck of reshuffled cards.

   The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right and 
dealt major blows to pro-European governing parties in Paris and Berlin. The 
Franco-German motor that usually propels EU politics along was weakened, and 
new dynamics could be on show at the informal dinner.

   Under the EU's complicated division of powers, the presidents and prime 
ministers get to nominate the next head of the bloc's powerful executive 
branch, the European Commission, which is responsible for drawing up EU policy 
on everything from climate to the colossal shared budget.

   Under the EU's treaties, their choice should take into account the results 
of the election.

   German conservative Ursula von der Leyen looks likely to stay on as 
president for another five years after a strong showing for her center-right 
European People's Party parliamentary group.

   In an interview with Germany's Welt TV on Saturday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz 
said "it is clear after the results of the elections that everything indicates 
that there can be a second term in office for Ursula von der Leyen." He said he 
believes the top job nominations could be agreed "quickly."

   Von der Leyen, at the helm of the EU since 2019, led a huge drive during the 
pandemic to secure billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses, set up a historic 
post-pandemic economic recovery fund and, from 2022, drummed up support for 
Ukraine in its war with Russia and extended a hand to Kyiv to join the bloc.

   But nothing is guaranteed. Von der Leyen's presidential style has at times 
riled her commission colleagues, and she is deeply unpopular in some corners of 
the EU Parliament, where she will need the support of 361 of the 720 lawmakers 
to hold on to her job.

   The other big posts up for grabs are that of European Council president, 
held by Belgian centrist Charles Michel, and EU foreign policy chief, occupied 
by Josep Borrell of Spain from the center-left. The council president's job is 
to broker deals between the 27 member states, while the top diplomat represents 
the EU on the world stage.

   In Brussels, names for the big posts have circulated for months. Former 
Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister Antnio Costa is frequently mentioned to 
become council president. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, well known for 
her tough line on Russia, has been floated as the bloc's potential top diplomat.

   French President Emmanual Macron said the aim Monday is "to try to have a 
quick consensus. But perhaps we need to wait until June 27-28," when the 
leaders meet again in Brussels for a formal EU summit.

   "I don't want to preempt things," Macron said on Saturday. "These 
discussions are happening with 27 of us, so we have advanced, several of us 
have called each other, and I think it's possible. I think it's possible in the 
days to come, or in the week to come.''

   Von der Leyen's own path to power in 2019 shows that the tussle over EU top 
jobs can be unpredictable. Then a German defense minister somewhat tainted by 
scandal in her ministry, von der Leyen was a relative unknown in Brussels when 
her name was raised by leaders in closed-door discussions.

   Back then, the support of her close ally, former German Chancellor Angela 
Merkel, and Macron helped her clinch the nomination. Given the current balance 
of power in Europe, it's hard to imagine Macron and Scholz pulling a major 
surprise this time.

   Scholz is licking his wounds after his Social Democrats took a drubbing, 
while Macron is tied up with the snap elections he called last week in a risky 
bid to see off the far right.

   In a secret ballot in 2019, von der Leyen made it over the line with 383 
votes, nail bitingly close to the threshold of 374. She was an unpopular 
nominee because she had not campaigned in elections as a lead candidate and was 
seen as being imposed on Parliament by the leaders.

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