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Europe

EU leaders assess damage after ‘earthquake’ election

© Photo: AFP

Video by Richelle HARRISON PLESSE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-28

European Union leaders, stunned by a massive Eurosceptic protest vote in parliamentary elections last weekend, agreed on Tuesday to seek a package deal of appointments to top EU jobs with an economic agenda to win back public confidence.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the 28-nation bloc’s most powerful leader, acknowledged that her centre-right party’s candidate, former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, may not end up heading the executive European Commission.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, under pressure after the anti-Brussels UKIP party won the European poll in Britain, came to the EU summit in Brussels determined to block the nomination of Juncker, seen in London as an old-style European federalist.

Sweden, the Netherlands and Hungary also voiced reservations and the 28 leaders mandated European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs EU summits, to hold consultations on a slate of candidates for senior positions and a policy agenda for the next European Commission, Merkel told reporters.

The leaders also discussed the situation in Ukraine, pledging to support newly elected President Petro Poroshenko and warning Russia that they could still step up economic sanctions if it took further actions to destabilise eastern Ukraine.

Merkel said Moscow had sent some positive signals since Poroshenko’s election on Sunday and it should act to seal its border with Ukraine to prevent any supplies reaching separatist rebels in the Russian-speaking east of the country.

Hollande echoes Cameron’s concerns

French President François Hollande, weakened by his Socialist party’s crushing defeat by the far-right National Front (FN) on Sunday, joined Cameron’s call for the EU to step back from citizens’ lives.

“Europe has to listen to what happened in France,” he said. If the bloc were unable to revive growth and help create jobs for the unemployed, there would be even bigger votes against the EU in the years to come, he said.

Leaders agreed the next Commission would concentrate on boosting the competitiveness of EU economies while furthering development of Europe’s monetary union, a common energy and climate policy and a common foreign policy, Merkel said.

While Cameron is adamant that more powers should be returned to national capitals and wants the phrase “ever closer union” dropped from the EU’s treaty, treaty change is very unlikely.

Seeking to force the leaders’ hand, the heads of the main pro-European parliamentary groups met before the summit and mandated Juncker to lead talks to try to find a majority for his bid to head the Commission.

New leader

Merkel, whose centre-right European People’s Party won the most seats in the 751-member EU legislature, voiced support for Juncker’s candidacy for the top job but said other outcomes were possible.

“As a member of the EPP, I supported Jean-Claude Juncker as our candidate for the presidency of the European Commission and I haven’t forgotten that. But I still have to respect the treaty,” she told a news conference, rebuffing questions from German reporters about breaking her word to voters.

The Lisbon treaty governing the EU says leaders have to “take into account” the election results but does not specify that they have to nominate the leader of the biggest party as Commission president.

Asked whether she was willing to outvote Cameron, Merkel said it was important to preserve the good working atmosphere of the European Council of EU leaders, especially in times of crisis.

Some diplomats fear lawmakers could reject any candidate who did not stand in the election, opening the way for a protracted period of institutional fighting.

The EU leaders will meet again in a month’s time.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

Date created : 2014-05-28

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