A summit in Brussels that was called after a pre-vacation meeting
two months ago ended in deadlock is likely, diplomats and officials
said, to hand Poland's conservative prime minister the influential
role of European Council president and Italy's little tested young
foreign minister given the running of the EU's common diplomatic
efforts. But nothing is yet certain.
Russia's assumed military intervention in Ukraine will also be
discussed when the prime ministers and presidents meet from late
afternoon, but officials doubt they will do more than agree to study
stepping up their economic sanctions on Moscow.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Milan on Friday spoke of toughening
an arms embargo, extending the list of individuals or sectors
targeted by economic sanctions and also of sending military
equipment to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will be in Brussels on
Saturday, aiming to persuade the EU to do more to deter Russian
President Vladimir Putin from supporting separatist rebels.
But while former Soviet satellite states in the east are keen for
tougher measures, the western powers, notably Germany, France, Italy
and Britain, fear damaging their own fragile economies by losing
Russian business - and are even warier of risking an interruption in
Russian gas supplies this winter.
DEAL IN MAKING
In a deal that would balance the interests of left- and right-wing
factions across the bloc, eastern and western states, northern
Europe and the south, as well as satisfy pressure for more women in
senior EU roles, Polish premier Donald Tusk could be named Council
president in succession to the Belgian Herman Van Rompuy and Italian
Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini the bloc's foreign policy chief,
replacing Briton Catherine Ashton.
Eastern leaders, alarmed by a resurgent Moscow, resisted the
appointment of Mogherini. At 41 and with just six months of
experience in Matteo Renzi's center government, they saw her lacking
the political weight to stand up to the Kremlin and also handicapped
by Italy's dependence on Russian energy.
However, the emergence this week of support for Tusk as Council
president - a conservative figure from by far the biggest of the
ex-communist states - appears to have forged the makings of a
consensus, diplomats and officials said.
That would rule out one-time favorite, Denmark's center prime
minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt - who like Tusk has never publicly
declared herself a candidate.
Van Rompuy, whose responsibility it is to try to find ways for the
28-nation Council to reach decisions, was in contact with leaders in
the run-up to the summit. But a final agreement is unlikely to
emerge until they meet in person on Saturday.
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Ahead of the summit, French President Francois Hollande will host
fellow leaders from the left in Paris in the morning, while European
conservatives will meet in Brussels at the same time.
Other elements in striking a deal on the top jobs will be
understandings reached on other key roles in the EU's executive
Commission, which will be formed in the coming weeks by the incoming
Commission president, the veteran conservative former Luxembourg
prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker.
His appointment at the last summit in late June followed an
acrimonious attempt by British Prime Minister David Cameron to block
Juncker, whom London sees as too keen on centralizing powers in
Brussels - a movement Cameron wants to reverse and over which he has
warned that Britain might even quit the Union.
Britain, France, Germany and other countries are competing to see
their nominees secure important portfolios in Juncker's team, such
as in economic affairs, trade and energy supply.
The horse-trading over jobs underlines the power of rival national
governments over the supranational institutions of the EU.
Proponents of a strong political leadership in Brussels that can
inspire and rally an increasingly skeptical European public behind
the common project may again be left disappointed.
Italian premier Renzi, whose country holds the rotating six-month
presidency of the bloc, said on Friday he would propose a new
meeting on Oct. 6 to discuss ways to tackle the "really worrying"
economic situation across Europe, with growth and jobs elusive and
fears of a renewed crisis for the euro currency.
Germany, the leading economic power, has given signs this week of
softening its opposition to calls from Italy and France for more
leeway to stimulate growth by government spending and the leaders
may make statements on the issue on Saturday.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis and Adrian Croft in Brussels,
Lisa Jucca and Francesca Landini in Milan; Writing by Alastair
Macdonald; editing by Ralph Boulton)
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