Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, is looking for a swift decision on the European Union’s senior appointments from national government leaders when they meet in Brussels on Saturday (30 August).
He is increasingly hopeful of establishing a consensus around a balanced ticket of Donald Tusk for president of the European Council and Federica Mogherini for foreign policy chief.
According to a Council source, if Van Rompuy is confident enough about support for this ticket, he will put it on the table at the outset of the summit, which is scheduled to start at 4pm. If agreement is reached, then an announcement will be made, and the meeting will break up for a press conference. The summit would then resume for discussion of Ukraine, Iraq and the Middle East.
If agreement has not been secured, then Van Rompuy will adjourn the summit to conduct bilateral negotiations.
The chances of a swift resolution will be assessed at the preliminary meetings of national leaders in their political families: the centre-left Party of European Socialists meet in Paris on Saturday morning; the centre-right European People’s Party meet in the Euroquarter of Brussels at 2pm; and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe at 1.30pm, also in the Euroquarter. In addition, the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – the Visegrad Four – will meet at 3.30pm.
Van Rompuy, who had a series of telephone calls with government leaders on Friday, will be hoping that those political family meetings can forge a consensus. He has previously said that he does not want to resort to majority voting – the means by which Jean-Claude Juncker was chosen as president of the European Commission.
The element of doubt – as it has been since before a summit on 16 July failed to reach agreement on the appointments – is whether all the countries of central and eastern Europe will back Mogherini’s candidacy. Italy’s foreign minister has previously been criticised for being soft on Russia, but Matteo Renzi, her prime minister, appears to have recovered lost ground. The central and eastern European states may be appeased if Tusk, the prime minister of Poland, is chosen to succeed Van Rompuy.
The stance taken by Dalia Grybauskaitė, the president of Lithuania, towards Mogherini’s candidacy, could be decisive, according to diplomatic sources. She has taken a hard line on the need for the EU to stand up to Russia over Ukraine. She will not be at any of the political group meetings before the summit, because she was elected as an independent.
9am Trilateral meeting with Poroshenko, Barroso, Van Rompuy. 10am Centre-left leaders meet, Paris. 1.30pm Liberal leaders meet, Brussels. 2pm Centre-right leaders meet, Brussels. 3pm EU leaders arrive at summit. 3.30pm Visegrad leaders meet. 4pm EU leaders meet Parliament president Martin Schulz. 4.30pm Summit begins.
The choice of Mogherini, who is from the centre-left, for the foreign policy post, would appear to harm the chances of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s prime minister, who is also from the centre-left, obtaining the European Council post. She had been talked about as a possible candidate, but if Mogherini is chosen then the need to appoint someone from central and eastern Europe would become more important.
Tusk, like Thorning-Schmidt, is from a country outside the eurozone but that is not proving an obstacle to his candidacy, with both Germany and France ready to contemplate the idea. But a specific – and perhaps separate – announcement may be made about who should chair meetings of the Eurozone Council – ie, leaders of the eurozone countries.
In addition, the summit is expected to decide who should be the next president of meetings of the eurozone finance ministers, the Eurogroup. Luis de Guindos, Spain’s finance minister, is the favourite to succeed Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister.
The main foreign policy issue for the summit is the worsening situation in Ukraine, where President Petro Poroshenko has accused Russia of an open invasion. Poroshenko is meeting Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, on Saturday morning. In addition, Poroshenko has asked for a meeting with the rest of the European Council and is calling for the EU to impose further sanctions on Russia.
Europeanvoice.com will keep you up-to-date on all the developments at the European Council on the live blog.