EU faces tense talks over top jobs in Brussels

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EU leaders have begun summit talks in Brussels aimed at deciding who will get the EU’s top jobs and what to prioritise in the next five years.

European Council President Donald Tusk, chairing Thursday’s talks, wants candidates to be named at this summit. Then the Council’s choices require approval by the European Parliament.

The most powerful job is EU Commission President. Ex-Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker has held the post since 2014.

Brexit is not a major issue this time.

Mr Tusk is to give the government leaders a brief update on Brexit developments on Friday. The official EU position is that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with Theresa May – and rejected by the UK Parliament – will not be reopened.

But Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier noted on Thursday that the EU was awaiting the election of a new UK Prime Minister and “hearing about their proposed approach to Brexit”.

When asked if Brexit negotiations could be extended again, beyond the 31 October deadline, Mr Varadkar was very skeptical.

“There’s very much a strong view that there shouldn’t be any more extensions. There’s enormous hostility towards extension amongst the EU. I have endless patience but my colleagues do not,” he said.

Besides the replacements for Mr Tusk and Mr Juncker, the leaders also have to decide on: a new European Central Bank president, a High Representative for foreign policy and a European Parliament president.

The European Commission drafts EU laws, oversees national budgets, enforces EU treaties and negotiates international trade deals. So Commission president is the most coveted EU post.

The nominee requires the support of least 21 of the 28 EU leaders and a majority in the parliament.

Mr Tusk sought to dampen expectations, saying: “Yesterday I was cautiously optimistic. Today I’m more cautious than optimistic.”

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