EU leaders are weighing nominees for the bloc's top jobs after an election shakeup

BRUSSELS (AP) — Leaders of European Union countries on Monday praised the record of the bloc's chief executive, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, as she appeared on track to secure their endorsement later this month for a second term in office.

At an informal dinner summit in Brussels, the EU’s 27 leaders were weighing the fallout from the recent European elections and how to take those results into account as they nominate candidates to a series of top jobs.

The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right and dealt major blows to mainstream governing parties in Paris and Berlin. The Franco-German motor that usually propels EU politics along was notably affected by gains in hard right parties.

Under the EU’s complicated division of powers, the presidents and prime ministers get to nominate the next president of the commission, which is responsible for drawing up EU policy on everything from climate to the colossal shared budget.

“I’m positive about Ursula von der Leyen,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters.

Over the last five years, Von der Leyen led a huge drive to secure billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses during the pandemic, set up an economic recovery fund and drummed up support for Ukraine in its war with Russia, including by backing Kyiv’s future EU membership.

But, Rutte said, “I’m not saying that we support her. There is a big possibility that we will, but it will be of course a question of how the whole package will emerge.”

That package involves three other top jobs: European Council president, currently Belgian centrist Charles Michel; EU foreign policy chief, currently Josep Borrell of Spain, from the center-left; and president of the European Parliament, currently the conservative Roberta Metsola from Malta.

The council president’s job is to broker deals between the 27 member states, while the top diplomat represents the EU on the world stage. Under the EU’s treaties, the leaders’ choice of candidates should reflect the results of the election, sharing the posts among the winners.

Several leaders said they did not expect a final decision to be made on Monday night, but they did insist that the process should not drag on, and held out hopes for an agreement when they hold their next summit in Brussels on June 27-28.

“It’s important that we bring clarity quickly to these matters,” Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said.

“I don’t think there’ll be any gratitude from Irish citizens or European citizens if politicians here in Brussels are talking for weeks on end about who’s going to do what role when there are so many pressing issues on a European and global level,” he said.

German conservative von der Leyen is well placed after a strong showing for her center-right European People’s Party (EPP) parliamentary group.

In an interview with Germany's Welt TV on Saturday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “it is clear after the results of the elections that everything indicates that there can be a second term in office for Ursula von der Leyen.” He said he believed the top job nominations could be agreed on “quickly."

But nothing is guaranteed. Von der Leyen's presidential style has at times riled her commission colleagues, and she is deeply unpopular in some corners of the EU Parliament, where she will need the support of 361 of the 720 lawmakers to hold on to her job.

In Brussels, names for the big posts have circulated for months.

Former Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister António Costa is frequently mentioned for the role of council president. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, well known for her tough line on Russia, has been floated as the bloc’s potential top diplomat. Metsola wants to lead the parliament again.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said mainstream parties — like the EPP he hails from, the center-left Socialists and Democrats, and the pro-business liberals — still hold a majority in the assembly, despite hard right successes in France and Germany.

“My feeling is that it’s enough to arrange the whole new (job) landscape, including the president of the commission,” he told reporters ahead of the meeting.

But Tusk did call for some “public clarification, what is the legal situation” surrounding Costa and the corruption scandal in Portugal that forced him out of office. Costa stepped down after eight years as head of government. He has not been accused of any crime.

Von der Leyen’s own path to power in 2019 shows that top job tussle can be unpredictable. Then a German defense minister somewhat tainted by scandal in her ministry, von der Leyen was a relative unknown in Brussels when her name was raised by leaders in closed-door discussions.

Back then, the support of her close ally, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron helped her clinch the nomination. Given the current balance of power in Europe, it’s hard to imagine Macron and Scholz pulling a major surprise this time.

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Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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