May in Brussels as EU leaders consider ‘top jobs’

Europe’s leaders are beginning the process of choosing the senior officials in Brussels.

Theresa May joined counterparts from the 27 other European Union countries for talks on how to decide who will replace European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

Jean-Claude Juncker
Jean-Claude Juncker

Although the UK is due to leave the EU on October 31 – and Mrs May is due to depart Downing Street before that – she stressed she would “play a constructive role”.

“While we are still a member of the EU, while I am Prime Minister, I will be continuing to meet the obligations of the office, the duties of the office, and that includes being here today where we are due to discuss the top jobs in EU institutions,” she said as she arrived in Brussels.

“The UK will continue to play a constructive role during the time of this extension of Article 50.”

She was due to hold meetings with Mr Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk in Brussels.

The process of choosing the new commission president could lead to a clash between members of the European Parliament and the leaders of the European Council.

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani says the legislature believes the new commission chief should be chosen from the lead candidates put forward by the political groupings in the parliament.

The majority of the European Parliament's political groups support the lead candidate process.

The European Parliament is determined to play a key role in choosing the next President of the European Commission.

— Antonio Tajani (@EP_President) May 28, 2019

But some EU leaders want a wider choice, with Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier believed to be one of the names in the frame for the job, even though he is not an official candidate.

The EU’s rules mean leaders have to take the results of the parliament elections into account when selecting the new president, but they are not bound to choose any of the candidates put forward by the party blocs.

Mr Tusk called the meeting in Brussels to discuss how to approach the process.

Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk

As well as a replacement for Mr Juncker, the national leaders are also likely to consider candidates for European Council president, EU high representative – responsible for foreign affairs – and head of the European Central Bank.

Downing Street would not be drawn on whether Mr Barnier would be a good candidate for the commission role, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying: “I’m not getting into any of that.”

Asked whether Mrs May backed the selection process, the spokesman added: “The Prime Minister supports President Tusk’s approach in seeking to create a package of candidates across the top jobs.”