Europe's leaders meet to chose candidates for top EU jobs

Tue Jul 15, 2014 6:16pm EDT
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By John O'Donnell and Paul Taylor

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders meet on Wednesday to pick the bloc's new foreign policy chief after choosing Jean-Claude Juncker to head the executive European Commission, but it may take some weeks before other top EU jobs are finally carved up.

The nominations, including other Commission posts as well as the president of the European Council of EU leaders, will shape Europe's response to challenges from the crisis in Ukraine to a stagnant economy and Britain's wavering membership of the bloc.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, 41, is front-runner for the foreign policy post, although Poland and Baltic states have misgivings about her suitability, seeing her as inexperienced and too soft on Russia in the Ukraine crisis.

The leaders are also likely to discuss further penalties against Russia for its role in Ukraine, although diplomats cautioned that any such measures were unlikely to extend to full economic sanctions.

With Germany and others reluctant to go further, action may mostly involve extending asset freezes and visa bans to more Ukrainian rebels and Russians deemed responsible for destablising eastern Ukraine.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Bulgaria's Kristalina Georgieva, the EU commissioner for development, are possible alternatives as foreign policy chief if Mogherini is blocked. Some west Europeans see Oxford-educated Sikorski, a respected strategic thinker, as too belligerent toward Moscow.

While some countries want to finalise the selection in a package deal on Wednesday, officials cautioned that more talks lay ahead over jobs that may include an influential permanent head of the group of euro zone finance ministers.

"I wouldn't expect a package deal," said one official with knowledge of the talks. "I think they will only agree on the high representative (foreign affairs), which is a crucial part of the puzzle. The aim is to finalise by the end of July."   Continued...

Elected president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker answers journalists questions during a press briefing after his election at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 15, 2014.   REUTERS/Vincent Kessler