EU centre-right claims Costa is ‘too light’ on migration

Backstage talks over the EU top jobs continue after an informal summit earlier this week did not seal a preliminary deal, with the centre-right raising additional questions over the Socialist pick.

According to the names seemingly agreed by EU leaders, Portugal’s socialist ex-PM Antonio Costa is heading for the EU Council Presidency. 

“He [Costa] has been too light on migration”, an EPP source close to the talks told Euractiv, adding another reason why the party is struggling to approve the Socialists’ bid for the European Council chief position.

The Socialists have had different positions on migration, especially on migration externalisation, which, according to a majority of leaders, must now become an important aspect of migration policy. 

While the Socialist governments of Spain and Denmark have been vocal in requesting solutions, Portugal’s Costa has been less prominent in the discussion, making the EPP wonder if he would support their stronger stance against irregular flows. 

EPP leaders have also raised concerns about a corruption probe back home into Costa’s former government officials. 

But the EU centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the winner of the EU elections, also still wants to keep the second part of the EU Parliament and EU Council mandates open for discussion at a later stage, as it requested on Monday at the informal EU summit, Euractiv has learned. 

“We don’t want to commit now as we don’t know what the future political balances will look like. The EPP may be leading Germany with CDU and Spain with Partido Popular”, the party source familiar with the matter told Euractiv.

“We want to stick to the treaties” according to which both positions are elected for a two-and-a-half-year term, renewable, the source added.

So far, there has always been an informal agreement between parties and leaders that the incumbent’s mandate will be renewed for another term without much debate.

Also read: Migration pact will fail if EU funding falls short, Spanish minister warns

The EPP source talked about a “positive and creative” atmosphere with the other pro-EU political forces, the EU socialists and liberal Renew. 

“Our political rivals can be assured that the EPP’s main negotiators [Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk] are handling the talks having in mind a fair for-all and solid final agreement”, the source added. 

For their part, the EU socialists want to keep the tradition and have a full mandate for Costa in the Council. 

EU Parliament: EPP’s ‘weakest point’

Based on the EU election results, the EPP will need the votes of S&D and liberal Renew to form a pro-EU majority and have incumbent Commission President Ursula von der Leyen re-elected. 

Read more: EU’s centre-right welcomes new members, eyes Belgium’s conservative N-VA.   

But contacted by Euractiv, a Social Democrat group (S&D) source although the EPP might have a majority among EU leaders, von der Leyen will have to get through the European Parliament too, which the source described as “EU Socialists’ last weapon”. 

“The EU Parliament is their [EPP] weakest point”, the S&D source said, adding that the EPP still needs the EU socialists’ votes to get their candidate elected. 

Referring to the EPP’s seeming hesitation over Costa’s candidacy, the S&D source said, “The EPP perfectly knows that they can push up to a certain point, and they don’t want to cross the red line”.  

A similar view was echoed by another source, from the Party of European Socialists (PES): “No one can take the risk and have their EU Commission candidate rejected by the Parliament”. 

EPP, Greens elect leaders

Meanwhile, the EPP group will elect today starting 10am its new chair and vice-chairs. The incumbent chair, Germany’s Manfred Weber, is widely expected to renew his tenure, unchallenged.

Moreover, the Greens/EFA group will also elect its new co-chairs, with both posts expected to go to the European Greens’ two lead candidates in the EU elections.

While incumbent German MEP Terry Reintke is the leader of the biggest national party within the group, Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout is the leader of GroenLinks, a party which, in a joint list with the Dutch Socialists (PvdA), is seen as having managed to beat the governing far-right PVV in the EU election with eight seats in total, compared to the six of PVV.

(Sarantis Michalopoulos | Euractiv.com, edited by Aurélie Pugnet/Alice Taylor)

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Sarantis Michalopoulos