An all-out, all-night push by EU leaders to choose a new European Commission president ended without agreement on Monday, after conservatives rebelled against a plan to install Frans Timmermans, a social democrat, in the top job.
A spokesman for European Council President Donald Tusk said the meeting had been suspended and would reconvene on Tuesday at 11 a.m.
The leaders’ Sunday dinner meeting in Brussels, originally scheduled for 6 p.m., started more than three hours late as a result of the angry uprising by conservatives against the deal endorsed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most prominent and influential member among the group of EU leaders.
Facing a deadlock, and under pressure to reach a decision before the new European Parliament sits for its first plenary this week, Tusk quickly shifted the summit dinner into a marathon series of one-on-one consultations that ran until dawn.
The leaders reconvened for a breakfast session around 8 a.m. but were still unable to overcome their differences.
“In the chemistry of these meetings, fatigue can sometimes lead to tensions, which happened this morning,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, though he declined to say who had lost their cool. Shows of temper “are useless,” he said. “In these cases we have to have the wisdom to say, “Let’s take a few hours.””
He said some around the table still harbor “personal ambitions,” adding, “What is missing around the table is the sentiment and the duty to defend the European public interest.”
Tusk’s goal in his one-on-ones, according to aides, EU officials and diplomats, was to gauge the level of support for individual candidates for Commission president, as well as for various configurations of a leadership package, which would also include his successor as Council president and the next high representative for foreign affairs.
But after Tusk met all 27 leaders in attendance (Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades was absent due to a broken leg), the outcome was as murky as the creamy pea soup served as an appetizer — with no clear consensus.
“We discussed extensively — I don’t think anyone can take issue with that,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the summit was suspended.
By breakfast on Monday, those present had essentially returned to the original plan hatched by Merkel and other leaders on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, focused on Timmermans becoming Commission president. In the end, it appeared to have been killed by the same opposition that first materialized Sunday afternoon.
The new European Parliament must elect its president during this week’s plenary. If the leaders fail to reach a deal on a broader EU package, the stage will be set for a wide-open contest for that post with candidates unrestrained by any other agreement.
If the Parliament presidency is settled before the other posts, that will further complicate the already excruciating deliberations over the other top jobs.
The EU treaties require leaders to seek balance in filling the senior posts, taking into account various factors, including party affiliation, geography and population size. The leaders are also seeking to increase the number of women in top EU jobs.
Merkel said the leaders want to achieve “the highest possible consensus” and said she would not be satisfied with a deal that only achieve the bare minimum majority — 21 of 28 countries in favor, representing 65 percent of the EU population.
She added it would be “complicated” to reach an agreement on Tuesday but, “I hope that, with goodwill, it’s possible.”
This article has been updated to clarify Emmanuel Macron’s comments.