Italian Meloni uneasy as EU reaches agreement on top positions

Italian Meloni uneasy as EU reaches agreement on top positions
Italian Meloni uneasy as EU reaches agreement on top positions

European Commission President and European People’s Party (EPP) lead candidate for re-election, Ursula von der Leyen, greets delegates before giving a speech at the party congress of the German conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at the Estrel Berlin Hotel in Berlin, 8 May 2024.

John MacDougall | AFP | Getty Images

The European Union’s three main political groups have reached an agreement on who will fill the bloc’s top positions, according to three officials who spoke to CNBC. That deal has caused some dissatisfaction among some lawmakers in Europe.

The officials, who remained anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussions, said these appointments have yet to be formally confirmed.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will serve a second five-year term, under an agreement reached Tuesday by EU leaders of the European People’s Party (EPP), Socialists and center-right Liberals, officials told CNBC.

Under the same agreement, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas will be appointed head of EU diplomacy, while former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa will take over the presidency of the European Council, the institution that brings together heads of state from across the EU.

The President of the Commission oversees the EU’s executive power, regulates the world’s largest single market, proposes new laws and sets the Union’s political agenda for the next five years.

The President of the European Council leads the overall direction and political priorities of the EU, while the chief diplomat deals with foreign policy and international relations.

“There is an understanding between the three main parties,” one of the EU officials told CNBC.

The trio of von der Leyen, Kallas and Costa was agreed by six EU leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, according to the sources. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Poland’s Donald Tusk represented the EPP, while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez supported Scholz for the Socialists and outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte joined Macron on behalf of Renew.

The appointments meet EU requirements for geographical balance and are expected to be formally approved by current heads of state at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday. They will then be put to the vote of the European Parliament at a later date.

Critics

Some leaders are expected to express their disapproval of the negotiation process.

“The deal the EPP has made with the left and the liberals goes against everything the EU was based on,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a post on the social media platform X on Tuesday. Hungary will take over the rotating presidency of the European Council next month.

“Instead of inclusion, the seed of division is sown. Senior EU officials should represent all member states, not just the left and liberals!” He added.

Right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also criticized the exclusion of her party, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), from the talks, despite their strong results in this month’s European Parliament elections.

“I don’t think citizens’ votes in the European elections are currently taken into account in negotiations for EU top posts,” Meloni said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

While von der Leyen’s EPP secured 189 seats in the 720-member assembly, its centrist allies lost ground amid record gains from the right, including Meloni’s ECR.

Another EU official, who also spoke anonymously due to the sensitivity of the discussions, told CNBC last week that Meloni “seems to think that, as one of the winners of the elections, she should be in the main mix and not it is».

One of CNBC’s sources familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday that the Italian prime minister “wants to be constructive,” suggesting that Meloni could still approve the three appointments.

Italy’s involvement could position it favorably to secure a strong portfolio within the European Commission. Von der Leyen will choose his new team in the weeks following his confirmation, and Meloni could push for significant roles in areas such as industrial strategy, economics or competition.

The new European Commission will take office in November, while the new Presidency of the European Council will begin on 1 December.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that the EU is the world’s largest single market.