EU next President?

European leaders are split over the “lead candidate” process for choosing the next president of the European Commission and face stormy negotiations on top jobs after this month’s EU elections. Emmanuel Macron, French president, reiterated his opposition on Thursday to the so-called Spitzenkandidat idea, whereby the nominee of the largest EU parliamentary group after the elections would succeed Jean-Claude Juncker. The favourite is Manfred Weber of the centre-right European People’s party. Arriving at an EU summit in the Romanian city of Sibiu, Mr Macron, a long-term opponent of the idea, insisted he would not yield and said the concept was “not the right approach”. Speaking at the end of the summit, the French president said his priority was to make sure those chosen shared his ambitions for reforming the EU and were “competent.” “We need the best leaders possible,” he said. “We must avoid a compromise to take the least good candidate, which has been the case sometimes before.”

Emmanuel Macron has struggled against charges of elitism © AP Asked whether he could support Mr Weber, Mr Macron said he had “a lot of respect” for the German but that “I do not see myself as in any way bound by the principle of Spitzenkandidaten.” Earlier Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s prime minister, argued that ignoring the process would damage democracy. “It will be difficult to tell voters that there will be elections and a Spitzenkandidat and then leaders say: let the people vote, we will decide in a small circle among ourselves,” Mr Kurz, a prominent member of the EPP, said. “I do not see this as democratic. If Manfred Weber wins the election, then he can claim the commission presidency.”

Mr Weber himself hit back at critics of the Spitzenkandidat system, saying premiers such as Mark Rutte of the Netherlands had to explain “what was wrong” with telling voters who the candidate would be for the commission. The rifts underline the difficulties that leaders are expected to face in reaching agreements on personnel decisions after the elections. As well as a president for the commission, the EU also needs to decide this year on successors to Donald Tusk, EU Council president, and Mario Draghi, European Central Bank president. On Thursday Mr Tusk, who will co-ordinate the process, said he would aim to reach a unanimous agreement at a summit in late June, but would not “shy away” from using a majority vote. “We need effective institutions so we need swift decisions,” he said.