GermanChancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron disagreed onTuesday over who should be the next chief of the European Commission as EUleaders met to begin bargaining over candidates for the bloc's top jobs in thenext five years.
An EU-wideelection last week returned a European Parliament with a splintered centre andgains by pro-EU liberals and Greens as well as eurosceptic nationalists and thefar right, making agreeing a coherent agenda for the bloc more tricky.
"We won'tchoose Mr. or Ms. Europe today, but just draw a balance after the European election,"Luxembourg's liberal prime minister, Xavier Bettel, said ahead of the meetingof 28 national leaders in Brussels.
Held onceevery five years, the EU election means the heads of major EU institutions willnow be replaced.
Merkel saidon arrival at the gathering that she backed centre-right German lawmakerManfred Weber to be the next head of the EU's powerful executive, the EuropeanCommission, after Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker steps down on Oct. 31.
Macronpushed back minutes later, listing the EU competition commissioner, Denmark'sMargrethe Vestager, the bloc's Brexit negotiator, centre-right Frenchman MichelBarnier, and Dutch Social Democrat Frans Timmermans – but not Weber – asappropriate candidates.
Dutch PrimeMinister Mark Rutte, also mooted as a possible contender in the obscurerecruitment process, said Tuesday's meeting was about "content rather thanpeople". It was also, he said, about agreeing policy priorities for the comingyears, including climate change, economy and migration.
Thecentre-right European People's Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists &Democrats (S&D) group were reduced to 326 seats together in the new,751-strong chamber in Sunday's vote, 50 short of the majority needed todetermine by themselves who should head the Commission, as they had in yearspast.
Other bigroles up for grabs later this year include the head of the European Parliamentand the European Central Bank, the bloc's foreign policy chief and the head ofthe European Council who represents leaders of the 28 EU member states andhelps broker compromises among them.
The EU wouldrisk an institutional logjam if talks drag on, leaving it unable to makepivotal policy decisions at a time when it faces a more assertive Russia,China's growing economic might and an unpredictable U.S. president.
Leaders of amajority of parties in the newly elected chamber called on Tuesday on nationalgovernment leaders to nominate a lawmaker to replace Juncker.