EU Brussels summit fails to fill two top jobs

EU leaders at start of summit, 16 Jul 14 Image copyright EPA
Image caption The leaders' choices for the top jobs need to strike a balance acceptable to all 28 nations

A summit of EU leaders in Brussels has ended without agreement on who should fill two top EU jobs - foreign policy chief and European Council president.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Council president Herman Van Rompuy will both step down in November.

A new summit will be held on 30 August to reach a deal on the nominees.

The leaders agreed further sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian crisis, calling for new EU-backed investments in Russia to be suspended.

The summit was held after the European Parliament confirmed Jean-Claude Juncker as the new president of the European Commission - the most powerful job in Brussels.

While no clear successors have emerged for the posts of Baroness Ashton and Mr Van Rompuy, there is strong speculation that the foreign policy post will be taken by a woman again.

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Media captionHow Europe deals with the rest of the world - Matthew Price explains

French President Francois Hollande told journalists after the summit that the EU's next top diplomat would "be a woman, taking into consideration what we must present as the image of Europe".

Diplomats say the EU was split over whether Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini should become foreign policy chief. Some eastern European countries voiced concerns that she could be too inexperienced and too soft on Russia.

Bulgaria's Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva is seen as a possible compromise candidate for the job.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a Social Democrat, has been tipped to replace Mr Van Rompuy but the fact her country is not a member of the eurozone is seen as a drawback.

Reports say there is strong diplomatic pressure for an eastern European to get one of the big jobs this time.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The EU top trio will all have been replaced by the end of November if all goes to plan

Finland's new Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, quoted by Reuters news agency, said: "We need to find the right balance between political parties, between north and south, between male and female.

"A lot needs to be taken into account, but the most important thing is competence."

Single EU voice

The foreign policy chief - officially called high representative - has the challenging job of co-ordinating EU policy in areas such as Iran's nuclear programme, the stabilisation of Kosovo and sanctions against various countries, including Russia.

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Media captionHow the EU Council works

The job was created in 2009 with the aim of giving the EU a single voice globally, though critics say the EU still falls well short of that.

The leaders' priority is to choose the new high representative - who will still have to get approval from MEPs. The appointee will also be a vice-president of the European Commission.

The EU also has to appoint the other members of the European Commission - a tough task, as there is intense national rivalry over the most coveted policy areas, such as the internal market, trade and energy.

The team has to be decided by September, when MEPs will grill each one in turn at detailed hearings and have the final say on the nominees.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is seen as a strong contender to replace Mr Van Rompuy as Council president.

In 2009 the appointments of Baroness Ashton and Mr Van Rompuy came as a big surprise for many observers.

Mr Van Rompuy has had a significant role in setting EU priorities during the eurozone crisis. The role combines strategic planning with the negotiating skills needed to reach consensus in a very diverse Europe.

Mr Juncker, an ardent advocate of closer EU integration, got clear majority support from EU government leaders and MEPs. But the UK government and many British MEPs opposed him, doubting whether he could deliver far-reaching reform of the EU.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron will hold talks with Mr Juncker on Thursday.

He is expected to press the case for EU reform and push for Lord Hill of Oareford, the UK's nomination for commissioner, to be given a key economic portfolio when the other roles are decided.