EU leaders see top jobs deal returning von der Leyen by end June


          Brussels, Belgium, June 18 (AFP/APP):EU leaders punted their final decision on the bloc’s top jobs to an end-of-June summit Monday, but the contours of a deal returning Ursula von der Leyen as European Commission chief were apparent following their talks in Brussels.

                  Briefing reporters afterwards, European Council president Charles Michel insisted the leaders’ dinner was never intended to seal a final deal on the EU’s top three jobs — heading the commission, chairing summits, and stewarding the bloc’s diplomacy.

                  “It was a good conversation. It goes in the right direction, I think,” he said, calling it a “collective duty to make a decision” when leaders return to Brussels for a June 27-28 summit.

                  French President Emmanuel Macron echoed Michel’s assessment, saying he expected a deal next week.

                  “Things need to simmer a little, but we are not far off,” he told reporters.

                  Far-right gains in EU-wide elections early this month, which triggered snap polls and political upheaval in France, have focused minds around the positions helming the bloc — negotiated with an eye to geographic and political balance.

                  Several leaders signalled a consensus was forming that would hand von der Leyen a second term, put the Socialist former Portuguese premier Antonio Costa at the head of the Council, and have Estonia’s prime minister Kaja Kallas succeed Josep Borrell as the bloc’s high representative.

                  Hopes of an agreement as early as Monday floundered after diplomats said leaders from von der Leyen’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) — the biggest group in the new EU parliament — appeared to be pushing for a bigger slice of the positions.

                  But a European diplomat said negotiators for the three main political groups in the EU — the EPP, Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the centrist Renew Europe — had reached broad agreement on “the three names”, with the devil now in the detail.

                  “It’s more a question of the balance of power between EPP and S&D that prevented a deal from being announced tonight,” the diplomat said.

                  The leaders of Croatia, Finland and the Netherlands likewise indicated that the debate around the trio of names appeared all-but-settled.