Top Stories
Top Stories

UPDATE 2-Dutchman Timmermans in pole position for top EU job -sources

Belén Carreño, Peter Maushagen and Robin Emmott

* Timmermans set to become Commission chief

* EU executive needs to find gender and east-west balance (Updates with comments from Finnish prime minister, details on Timmermans)

BRUSSELS, June 30 (Reuters) - Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans is on course to be named the EU's next chief executive, diplomats and officials said on Sunday, hours before European Union leaders meet to decide who wins the bloc's top posts.

Barring unexpectedly tough resistance from eastern European countries, Timmermans is set to be chosen as European Commission president after talks between France, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany at the G20 summit in Japan, two diplomats and one European Parliament adviser said.

If confirmed, the choice would mark a victory for centrists and liberals, who challenged what they saw as increasingly German domination in Brussels, and would end 15 years of centre-right control of the European Commission.

"It looks to be Timmermans for the European Commission president," one diplomat involved in the talks told Reuters, a view echoed by a second envoy when asked about the selection process for five top posts in a new five-year mandate.

If confirmed as successor to Jean-Claude Juncker, Timmermans, 58, has said his priorities would be combating climate change, ensuring a minimum wage for Europeans and building ties with Africa, home of many of the migrants who have come to Europe in the last few years.

Antti Rinne, Finland's first left-leaning prime minister in 20 years, told Reuters he backed Timmermans as Commission chief and that this decision would now allow other jobs to be filled.

Beside the Commission presidency, the other jobs up for grabs are the presidencies of the European Parliament and the European Council - grouping the EU governments - as well as EU's foreign policy chief and the governor of the European Central Bank, who is responsible for the euro currency.

Rinne said Finland had a strong claim to the ECB job, with experienced candidates in Erkki Liikanen, a former Finnish central bank chief, and Bank of Finland governor Olli Rehn, a former European economics commissioner.

Timmermans, the current Commission vice-president and a former Dutch foreign minister, is expected to be confirmed in his post at a summit dinner of 28 leaders in Brussels starting at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT).


German parliamentary adviser Tobias Teuscher told Reuters that the current European Council president, Donald Tusk, had proposed giving the post to the Socialist and Democrats political bloc, for which Timmermans was the lead candidate in May's European Parliament elections.

But Timmermans is unpopular with eastern EU states, notably Hungary and Poland, who were outraged by his rule-of-law investigations against their nationalist governments.

With the bloc's main founding powers, France and Germany, long at odds over not just the candidates but also the rules of the job search itself, a Tuesday deadline to choose the head of the European Parliament has given urgency to a task that could otherwise drag on for months, diplomats say.

Facing accusations of being out of touch with citizens, European lawmakers have sought to line up the best performers in May's European Parliament elections for most of the top jobs.

Under that plan, German centre-right EU lawmaker Manfred Weber wanted to take the European Commission presidency, as the European People's Party is the biggest political alliance.

But French President Emmanuel Macron rejected the 'Spitzenkandidat' system, which was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez suggested starting from scratch after an inconclusive second attempt at a summit earlier in June. Many governments want a balance of men and women, and to prevent members of western EU governments taking all the top jobs.

The emerging compromise is to allow Weber to become European Parliament president and give the Commission job to Timmermans, whom France and Spain strongly support.

"Both Spitzenkandidaten are part of the solution -- that is very important. As things look now, it won't come to an institutional conflict," Merkel told reporters after the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

Female candidates for big Brussels jobs include Denmark's Margrethe Vestager, now the bloc's competition commissioner, the Bulgarian head of the World Bank, Kristalina Georgieva, and Spanish Economy Minister Nadia Calvino. (Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke and Jean-Baptiste Vey; Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Kevin Liffey)