European ‘Game of Thrones’ Continues as EU Council Summit Ends in a Deadlock
European leaders unable to come to an agreement on candidates for top EU jobs, 2050 climate neutrality, as fragmentation in EU prevails.
Last month, the leader of the Party of European Socialists Frans Timmermans compared the divisiveness that Brexit has caused in the U.K. to the ‘Game of Thrones on steroids’ during a debate in Brussels.
As the European Union (EU) leaders concluded their summit in Brussels last week, it is clear that this divide between nationalists and Euroskeptics is not confined to the U.K. alone.
The summit concluded in a deadlock, as EU leaders failed to reach an agreement on who should take the five top EU jobs, including the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission. This could hold-up appointments to other key roles in EU institutions such as the President of the European Central Bank and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs.
Current European Commission President Donald Tusk said he will organize another summit on July 30 to come to an agreement on who will replace him before the European Parliament’s newly-elected members gather for their first constituent session on July 2.
What has changed?
In previous years, the largest political grouping in Parliament shaped the Commission and built support around favored candidates for the top jobs in the EU bloc. However, last month’s European Parliament election results have left no political grouping with a clear majority as they did in previous years.
The presidents of the three main EU institutions –– the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council –– will be replaced by the end of the year, including the head of the European Central Bank and the EU’s foreign policy chief, leaving the top five jobs of the bloc’s institutions open.
The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) remain the two largest political groups in Parliament, but the significant loss of seats in the election to pro-European alliances, the Greens and far-right anti-EU parties have left them without a clear governing majority.
This unprecedented fragmentation in parliament has been made worse by disagreements between Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron over who should be the next president of the Commission.
At previous summits, French and German leaders rallied around a single candidate who was put forward for the position. Now, Merkel has waged her support for Manfred Weber, a candidate who has never held any elected office according to Al Jazeera, and is “a complete product of the European bureaucracy.”
Macron opposes Weber’s appointment as he feels “the next president of the Commission must be able to deal with a wide range of issues across the EU.”
The French president has also expressed his desire to see gender balance in EU leadership by having two women and two men lead the European Union in the next five years.
The EU Council conclusions last Thursday were missing the target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, as the policy faced opposition from eastern European countries including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
With its failure to garner the unanimous support it needed, the policy was downgraded to a footnote that reads: “For a large majority of Member States, climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050.”
The Greens blamed Macron and Merkel for failing to get everyone on board with the policy.
“With people on the streets demanding action and warnings from scientists that the window to respond is closing fast, our governments had a chance to lead from the front and put Europe on a rapid path to decarbonization. They blew it,” said EU climate policy adviser Sebastian Mang in a statement following the summit.
Climate policy has become a top priority in the EU political agenda, especially following the gains the Green party made in the parliament elections. The rise of the party’s popularity was a clear indicator that EU citizens, particularly millennials, want their governments to take stronger actions against climate change.
Eight countries – Denmark, Latvia, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Spain –are currently pushing for a firm commitment to the 2050 climate neutrality deadline, according to Euractiv. However, some EU member states feel that the plan is too ambitious, and want to stick to the climate goals that have already been agreed upon, according to officials.
The primary concern behind the tough targets is their potential to hurt competitiveness and cost jobs, as the countries in opposition to the legislation are heavily dependant on a fossil-fuel economy.
Tension between Eurosceptics and advocates of European Union unity remains at its climax as the uncertainty of Brexit continues to headline the EU’s political agenda.
While current favorite to succeed Theresa May as UK’s next prime minister, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, said he plans to leave the EU with or without a deal by the extended 31 October deadline, his rival —current foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt— feels the deadline should not be considered a “hard stop” and that further negotiations should remain a plausible option.
Tusk and Jean-Claude Tucker, the president of the European Commission, where expected to review the progress of Brexit at this EU summit. At the final press conference of the summit, Juncker restated that the withdrawal agreement that has been put forward is not open for negotiation.
Tusk said, however, that EU leaders remain willing to work and maintain a close relationship with the UK and May’s successor.
The bigger picture
The popularity that Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU parties seemed to ride the wave of Brexit’s buzz at the parliament elections, as both parties crushed their opponents and came first in their respective counties.
Le Pen’s and Salvini’s parties message is clear – the idea of a “Europe of the nations” where power is taken from Brussels and devolved back to national governments is gaining tract.
A European Commission Spokesperson, however, dismissed concern of EU facing an existential risk due to nationalists who are seeking to divide the bloc.
“There is a clear pro-EU majority in the House, meaning that we can count on a constructive and engaged Parliament for the next institutional cycle,” the spokesperson said.
“The European elections were the tangible proof that European democracy is alive and well.”