EU leaders are meeting to decide who will get the bloc's most prestigious jobs. Jean-Claude Juncker's successor as European Commission president is among the positions to be filled before the first parliamentary session.
EU leaders were on Sunday preparing for one of the first tasks of the new European Parliament: nominating candidates for the bloc's top jobs. Member states and MEPs have been deadlocked over deciding who should fill the positions after May's elections, in which major parties saw their power shrink, and populists and Greens made huge gains.
The leaders will nominate the successor to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, along with names to fill top diplomat posts, including heads of the European Parliament, European Council and European Central Bank.
Arriving at the extraordinary summit in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that negotiations to choose a new president "will not be very easy."
Read more: Merkel's pick to head European Commission
The next commission president will likely be nominated from a list put forward by the European Parliament, Merkel said on Saturday. She said conservative MEP Manfred Weber and his Social Democrat rival Frans Timmermans were "definitely" part of the solution in the deadlocked debate.
Manfred Weber: Favorite to replace Juncker is German EU lawmaker Manfred Weber, whose center-right European People's Party (EPP) is the largest grouping in the European Parliament. However, the EPP lost seats in last month's European elections, making it more difficult to form a majority in parliament that would be in favor of the Bavarian.
Frans Timmermans: Also in the running is Weber's center-left rival from the Netherlands, Frans Timmermans of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D). Timmermans promises to bring the bloc closer to ordinary voters at a time when Britain's looming exit is just one — albeit dominant — example of several nationalist movements across the EU.
Margrethe Vestager: EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager of the liberal alliance, which came third in the May elections, is also tipped to be seriously considered for the Commission's top job. The Danish MEP has taken on corporations like Apple, Amazon and Google parent Alphabet. It's also been said that she served as the inspiration for the main character in Borgen, a Danish series where a woman becomes Denmark's first female leader.
Others in the running: Another possibility is French MEP and EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier (EPP). Others include Belgium's liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel, Bulgarian World Bank head Kristalina Georgieva, and outgoing Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
Next steps: Candidates can only be approved if they have the support of at least 21 of the 28 EU leaders, as well as backing from a majority in the new 751-seat European Parliament. The new officials will set EU policy for the next five years.
Read more: Weber aims to lead European Commission
Why the deadlock?
After weeks of talks, the four dominant groups in the new European Parliament — the conservatives, socialists, liberals and greens — haven't been able to agree on a compromise candidate to replace Juncker. The EPP says its candidate, Weber, has the strongest claim. But while he has been backed by Merkel, critics cite his lack of experience leading a government. French President Emmanuel Macron and others, including Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, are opposed to him.
EU Council President Donald Tusk met early Sunday with top parliament officials and Sanchez, many hours before the summit was to kick off.
Leaders were hoping to firm up the list of candidates over dinner from 6 p.m. (4 p.m. UTC). They've also scheduled a breakfast meeting on Monday, a day before the first parliamentary session on Tuesday.
kw/ng (AP, AFP, dpa)