July 20th, 2024

European Union leaders agree on top officials who will be the face of trading bloc in coming years

By Samuel Petrequin, Lorne Cook And Ella Joyner, The Associated Press on June 27, 2024.

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders agreed Thursday on the officials who will be the face of the world’s biggest trading bloc on the global stage in coming years on everything from anti-trust investigations to foreign policy, according to the EU presidency of the Council.

Ursula von der Leyen was approved for a second term as the EU’s executive Commission. Antonio Costa, a former Portuguese socialist Prime Minister was nominated to take over as the next European Council President and Kaja Kallas, the Estonian prime minister known for her tough line on Russia, was endorsed as the bloc’s top diplomat to replace Josep Borrell.

The trio was anointed by leaders at a summit in Brussels despite reserves from far-right officials including Italian Prime minister Giorgia Meloni and her Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban.

Both von der Leyen and Kallas should now be approved by European lawmakers. Costa’s nomination only needed the leaders’ approval, and he will start in his new role in fall.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders were poised to approve Ursula von der Leyen, António Costa and Kaja Kallas as the heads of the 27-nation bloc’s top institutions for the coming years, tasking them with shaping policy for the world’s biggest trading bloc.

After the three mainstream political groups in the European Parliament reached an agreement earlier this week, the trio were expected to be approved at a two-day summit starting Thursday in Brussels, despite criticism from the far right.

Under the deal reached by negotiators from the conservatives, social democrats and liberals, von der Leyen, a conservative, will be proposed for a second term as European Commission president. Costa, a former Portuguese socialist prime minister, will be nominated to succeed European Council President Charles Michel, while Kallas, the Estonian prime minister known for her tough line on Russia, will be proposed as the bloc’s top diplomat to replace Josep Borrell.

While Michel’s appointment is decided by EU leaders, both von der Leyen and Kallas will also need to be approved by lawmakers.

The European Parliament election held June 6-9 saw the EU’s legislature shift to the right and dealt major blows to mainstream governing parties in France and Germany. But the three mainstream groups managed to keep a majority of seats and didn’t take into consideration the rise of the far-right group of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose political group in the European Parliament is now the third-largest.

Under the EU’s treaties, the leaders’ choice of candidates should reflect the results of the election, sharing the posts among the winners. At their previous meeting earlier this month, leaders failed to agree on the bloc’s top jobs.

Meloni criticized the deal on the eve of the summit, saying it didn’t take into account the will of EU citizens “who are calling for a more concrete, less ideological Europe.”

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was part of the negotiating team that proposed the top jobs, said the common position of the three mainstream groups was reached only “to facilitate the process” and not to ostracize Meloni.

“The decision is for Madam Meloni and other leaders,” said Tusk, who himself was European Council president from 2014-2019. “There is no decision without Prime Minister Meloni. This is obvious.”

Under the EU’s complicated division of powers, the leaders get to nominate the next president of the European Commission, which is responsible for drawing up EU policy on everything from the climate to the colossal shared budget.

Over the last five years, von der Leyen led a huge drive to secure billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses during the pandemic, set up an economic recovery fund and drummed up support for Ukraine after Russia launched its full-scale invasion, including by backing Kyiv’s future EU membership.

The European Council president’s job is to broker deals between the EU’s member states, while the top diplomat represents the bloc on the world stage.

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