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EU leaders race against the clock to choose bloc's top jobs

Ina Fassbender, AFP | File photo of Dutch politician Frans Timmermans, the frontrunner for the European Commission president post.

European Union leaders started a new marathon session of talks Sunday, desperately seeking a breakthrough in a diplomatic fight over who should be picked for half-a-dozen of jobs at top EU institutions.

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EU leaders failed in a first attempt last week to fill the roster of key appointments. The bloc is looking to replace EU Council President Donald Tusk, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the heads of the parliament, foreign affairs service and the European Central Bank by the end of fall.

Those officials will be instrumental in setting EU policy for the next five years and beyond.

Tusk met early Sunday with top parliament officials and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, many hours before an official summit was to kick off.

There was hope at the June 20-21 summit that the extra week could bring views closer together over who will replace Juncker as commission president. German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed German conservative Manfred Weber, whose center-right European People's Party is the largest political group in the European Parliament but lost seats in the EU vote in May.

But French President Emmanuel Macron had strongly indicated that Weber lacked the necessary international credentials for such a high-profile role.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez suggested starting from scratch after an inconclusive second attempt at a summit earlier in June. Many governments want a balance of men and women and to avoid the top jobs going to members of western EU governments.

The emerging compromise is to allow Weber to become European Parliament president and give the Commission job to Dutch socialist politician Frans Timmermans, who France and Spain strongly support.

'All eyes on Italy tonight'

'Out of touch' accusations

With France and Germany long at odds over not just the candidates but the rules of the job search itself, a Tuesday deadline to choose the head of the European Parliament has given urgency to a task that could otherwise drag on for months, diplomats say.

Facing accusations of being out of touch with citizens, European lawmakers have sought to line up the best performers in May's European Parliament elections for most of the top jobs.

For investors and financial markets, the most crucial choice is president of the ECB, which sets interest rates for the euro zone. France could be given the post, one EU diplomat said, naming Francois Villeroy de Galhau, who is governor of the French central bank. Erkki Liikanen, a former Finnish central bank chief, is also a candidate to succeed Mario Draghi.

However, the role was not discussed by Tusk in talks with factions of the European Parliament on Sunday and one diplomat said Merkel had asked for the post to be decided later.

Female candidates for big Brussels jobs include Denmark's Margrethe Vestager, now the bloc's top competition official, the Bulgarian head of the World Bank, Kristalina Georgieva, and Spanish Economy Minister Nadia Calvino.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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