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Tusk sets date for meeting over EU's top jobs, highlighting divide between the bloc's leaders

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By Emma Beswick
Tusk sets date for meeting over EU's top jobs, highlighting divide between the bloc's leaders
Copyright  REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

European Council President Donald Tusk announced Thursday that European Union leaders would meet just two days after the European Parliament elections in May to start the process of agreeing who will take over at the helm of the bloc's top institutions later in 2019.

"I would like to announce that just after the European Parliament election, on May 28, I will call the meeting of all EU leaders in order to start the nomination process," he said at a news conference after EU talks in Romania at the Sibiu summit.

"It would be best if we managed to reach consensus on all these decisions," he said. "But I will not shy away from putting these decisions to the vote if consensus proves difficult to achieve," he added.

Tusk also said he wanted to have the new EU leadership agreed in June.

But the process for deciding on the EU's spitzenkandidat - the lead candidate - has highlighted a divide between the bloc's heads of state.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been vocal on his opposition to the process, saying on Thursday that he thought it was "not the right approach".

Per the spitzenkandidat system, the leader the European party that commands the largest coalition after the election is likely to become the Commission president.

Macron maintains that such a system is not the best way to choose a leader.

He said: "We must avoid a compromise to take the least good candidate, which has been the case sometimes before."

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has also expressed his displeasure, calling the system a "stupid idea".

However, the process also has a number of defenders, including that of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is backing the Commission president frontrunner Manfred Weber.

Kurz has said a change to the way a spitzenkandidat is chosen would run the risk of "being undemocratic".

"It will be hard to tell voters first that there will be elections and then a few of the elite leaders will later say: oh well, let the people vote, but we will decide that in a small circle among ourselves," he said.

Also on the agenda was mapping out a future without Britain post Brexit.

The leaders signed up to ten key pledges in a joint 'Sibiu' declaration, which set out the EU's agenda for the next five years and addressed issues including economic prosperity, security, and climate change, among others.

However, commentators, including Euronews' political editor Darren McCaffrey, remarked that the declaration seemed to contain broad brushstrokes rather than any firm commitments.