EU horse-trading for bloc's new top diplomat fails

 

Associated Press

European Union leaders failed to agree on who should get the prestigious job as the 28-nation bloc's new foreign policy chief to succeed Catherine Ashton, who also chairs the international negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

Summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy said early Thursday the time was not yet ripe for a decision, and leaders will reconvene for another summit in Brussels to agree on their candidates late next month.

The leaders agreed, however, on imposing new sanctions against Russia in a coordinated move with the U.S.

The new EU top diplomat will be instrumental in shaping the bloc's relations with Russia in the wake of what is seen as Moscow's destabilizing actions in Ukraine.

The horse-trading to fill that and other top EU jobs stalled as leaders haggled over the candidates' party affiliation, gender, political views and stance on Russia in particular.

"It was important to have a first discussion" on the candidates, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "There will be a good result in August."

The position of the EU's foreign policy chief has become more high-profile as Ashton, whose term expires in October, became a regular interlocutor for U.S. secretaries of state and took the lead in the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, which are currently under way in Vienna.

Van Rompuy had called the meeting for late Wednesday to nominate the new foreign policy chief.

No candidates were officially named for the post, but Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini was widely considered the front-runner. Yet some eastern European leaders criticized the 41-year-old center-left politician as too Russia-friendly and lacking experience.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said Wednesday she "will not support a person who is pro-Kremlin," while Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said he thinks Mogherini is a very good candidate.

Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, who advocates a tough stance toward Russia, and the EU's development aid commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, have been mentioned as alternatives.

The chosen candidate will also need to be approved by the European Parliament.

The leaders also sought to appoint a successor to Van Rompuy as European Council President, who plays an important role behind the scenes and sets the agenda of EU summits. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was viewed as one possible successor.

Follow Juergen Baetz on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz

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