Twenty hours of EU summit talks ended in recrimination on Monday as exhausted leaders admitted defeat in efforts to strike a deal on top jobs, with an angry Emmanuel Macron decrying the debacle as a hammer blow to the bloc’s credibility.
Bleary-eyed leaders decamped with a pledge to return to the negotiating table at 11am on Tuesday, when they will pick up the pieces of a discussion in which the EU’s highest decision-making body splintered along geographical and party political lines.
France’s president carried out a public autopsy of the “divisions” and “hidden agendas” that he said had stymied efforts to agree on new leadership for the European Commission and other EU institutions.
“We have to review all the consequences of such a failure,” Mr Macron said. “Our credibility is profoundly stained with meetings that are too long that yield nothing. We give an image of a Europe that is not serious.”
One senior diplomat branded the situation “chaotic” as Donald Tusk, European Council president, suspended the summit at lunchtime on Monday after negotiations became deadlocked.
Leaders had wanted the summit to be decisive, but over the course of Sunday evening the negotiations cycled repeatedly through different options without consensus.
Signs of trouble were quickly evident when staunch opposition emerged to a package deal discussed by a group of leaders including Mr Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel in the margins of last week’s G20 summit in Osaka
That deal would have handed the commission presidency to Frans Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister who led the EU election campaign for Europe’s centre-left Party of European Socialists.
But the plan was rebuffed by Ms Merkel’s political allies within the centre-right European People’s party. It also faced stiff opposition from a group of central European countries.
Various “packages” of names for top jobs, all built around the idea of Mr Timmermans as commission president, were discussed without success over ensuing hours.
“This failure is a product of division, a division on the one hand within the EPP . . . and on the other hand a geographical division within the [European] council,” Mr Macron said.
Ms Merkel was more emollient, saying that “bringing together these different strands takes time”.
She said the EU should strive to have “as wide a consensus as possible” — a reference to the fact that a weighted majority of leaders could ram through a deal against the wishes of a minority.
The deadlock reflects the messy struggle between the EU’s main political groups after the historically dominant mainstream centre-right and centre-left parties lost ground in the EU parliament elections to liberals and greens.
Other tensions are over the need to find a geographical and gender balance in filling the big five jobs of commission president, council president, European Parliament president, European Central Bank president and high representative for foreign policy.
Plans discussed by leaders included Manfred Weber, a German MEP and the EPP’s lead candidate for commission president, instead taking the parliament presidency.
Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian former commissioner and chief executive of the World Bank, was lined up as a possible European Council president, while Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister, was put forward for the job of foreign policy chief.
However, the prospect of Ms Georgieva, an eastern European, getting a big job did not appear to outweigh concerns in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic about Mr Timmermans, who has been a tough critic of rule of law breaches in some capitals.
A plan to hold indicative votes by the 28 EU leaders was shelved after Mr Tusk concluded no combination of candidates would prevail.
“No package had a majority,” said a senior EU official. “[On Tuesday] we will have sharper heads.”
Other names that have entered the frame for different roles are Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, and Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition commissioner and a leading candidate for the liberals.
Mr Macron said the setback showed the need for a “deep reform” of the EU’s decision-making processes, adding that further enlargement of the bloc was unthinkable without it.
“We cannot be hostage to one or another little group that forms,” he said, bemoaning “personal ambitions that in my view do not have their place around the table.”
By Alex Barker, Jim Brunsden, Michael Peel and Ben Hall in Brussels
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