On 20 and 21 June, European Union leaders met in Brussels for a two-day summit to reach an agreement on who the next leaders of the EU institutions will be and to discuss the EU’s strategic agenda for the next five years. Additionally, they also planned to discuss climate change and the bloc’s long-term budget.
Unsurprisingly, the Heads of State and Government of the EU failed to agree on a name for the next Commission President and will meet again on June 30 to try to finally seal a deal. Gathering just a few weeks after the European elections, the leaders were determined to agree on key appointments before the new European Parliament has its first plenary session in the first week of July. Ahead of the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk was already expecting stiff opposition from some EU leaders to the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber. He proved himself right at the end, with EU leaders ultimately being divided: Emmanuel Macron called the whole Spitzenkandidaten process, which ties the appointment to the results of the elections, a fiction. Angela Merkel (Germany, EPP) and Mark Rutte (Netherlands, Renew Europe) were less harsh in their assessment and are still hoping to secure support for their Spitzenkandidaten at the next European Council.
Moreover, not only the European Council is divided, but also the European Parliament strongly voiced its opposition against EPP Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber. The Socialist and Liberal groups in the European Parliament openly opposed Weber’s candidature. Lastly, the hesitation on the part of the European Parliament to agree on a single candidate could benefit the European Council, which could force a candidate on the European Parliament. Of course, this course of action depends on the European leaders getting their acts together and acting forcefully. In order to do that, they will have to agree on a suitable candidate sooner rather than later.
The appointment of the next European Commission President thus appears to plunge the EU into an institutional crisis. Still, the difficulties in the current negotiations should not be exaggerated since also in 2014, the final decision was made only in late August. However, at the time, the EPP and S&D still had a joint majority and were able to agree on a single candidate, contrary to the current situation. As such, it still remains unclear who will ultimately fill Jean-Claude Juncker’s shoes.
The European Council also failed to agree on the 2050 climate goals as Poland, Czechia, Estonia and Hungary opposed the inclusion of an explicit date. The EU split on climate change measures showed once again the rift between the western and eastern Member States. The latter heavily depend on a fossil-fuel economy and thus do not support targets already agreed by the bloc as they perceive them as damaging to their economies. The conclusions of EUCO called on the Commission and the Council to work further towards a climate-neutral EU in line with the Paris Agreement while taking into account Member States’ national circumstances and respecting their right to decide on their own energy mix. The issue is expected to come up again at the next European Council with an agreement scheduled to be reached at the end of 2019.
During the summit, the EU leaders did agree on a strategic agenda for 2019-2024, in which they pledge to protect citizens and freedoms, develop a strong and vibrant economic base, build a more climate-friendly, green, fair and inclusive future and defend European interests and values on the global stage. The strategic agenda will serve as the framework for the actions of the next European Commission. Together with a joint program from the four major political groups (EPP, S&D, RE and the Greens), both documents will heavily influence the working programme of the next European Commission.