EU leaders punted their final decision on the bloc's top jobs to an end-of-June summit Monday, but the contours of a deal returning Ursula von der Leyen as European Commission chief were apparent following their talks in Brussels. 

Briefing reporters afterwards, European Council president Charles Michel insisted the leaders' dinner was never intended to seal a final deal on the EU's top three jobs -- heading the commission, chairing summits, and stewarding the bloc's diplomacy.

"It was a good conversation. It goes in the right direction, I think," he said, calling it a "collective duty to make a decision" when leaders return to Brussels for a June 27-28 summit.

French President Emmanuel Macron echoed Michel's assessment, saying he expected a deal next week.

"Things need to simmer a little, but we are not far off," he told reporters.

Far-right gains in EU-wide elections early this month, which triggered snap polls and political upheaval in France, have focused minds around the positions helming the bloc -- negotiated with an eye to geographic and political balance.

Several leaders signalled a consensus was forming that would hand von der Leyen a second term, put the Socialist former Portuguese premier Antonio Costa at the head of the Council, and have Estonia's prime minister Kaja Kallas succeed Josep Borrell as the bloc's high representative.

Hopes of an agreement as early as Monday floundered after diplomats said leaders from von der Leyen's centre-right European People's Party (EPP) -- the biggest group in the new EU parliament -- appeared to be pushing for a bigger slice of the positions. 

But a European diplomat said negotiators for the three main political groups in the EU -- the EPP, Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the centrist Renew Europe -- had reached broad agreement on "the three names", with the devil now in the detail. 

"It's more a question of the balance of power between EPP and S&D that prevented a deal from being announced tonight," the diplomat said.

The leaders of Croatia, Finland and the Netherlands likewise indicated that the debate around the trio of names appeared all-but-settled.

"We will not have a rerun of 2019, when it was a big tombola, and everything was up for grabs for three days," said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. "That's not the case here. It seems to be much more clear."

Naming the 46-year-old Kallas -- an outspoken Kremlin critic -- as high representative would send a strong signal to the EU's east.

And the mooted deal comes despite a cloud hanging over the 62-year-old Costa, after he became embroiled in a corruption probe that forced his resignation -- even if the case has since appeared to come apart.


A fourth job in play is that of European Parliament president, which is decided by the legislature, not the leaders.

It is likely to return to the incumbent, the EPP's Roberta Metsola, 45, for another two-and-a-half-year term.

To secure the nod from EU leaders, von der Leyen, 65, needs support from a "qualified majority" of 15 out of 27 countries, covering at least 65 percent of the bloc's population.

A dozen leaders come from her EPP political grouping, but she also needed to win over Macron, from the centrist Renew Europe group, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the S&D. 

Both leaders of the French-German axis at the heart of the European Union have emerged weakened after being beaten by far-right parties in the EU Parliament elections.

Most spectacularly, in France the National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen trounced the party of the president, who now faces the prospect of the RN's leader -- the 28-year-old TikTok-friendly Jordan Bardella -- potentially becoming his prime minister.

If, as expected, von der Leyen ultimately pockets enough leaders' votes, she can set about choosing her commissioners -- drawn from each of the EU member countries, with consideration for gender balance and political affiliation.

But she will have one more hurdle to pass: The new European Parliament has to approve leaders' picks and proposed commissioners.

Most lawmakers from the EPP, which holds 190 seats in the incoming 720-seat parliament, will endorse von der Leyen, but she will need support from elsewhere to secure a majority.

That would likely come from the other mainstream political families, the S&D and Renew, or from the Greens -- but von der Leyen has also been covering her bases by courting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on the hard right.

Robert Abela: The EU must address people's priorities 

Prime Minister Robert Abela, who was present for the summit, underlined the need for the EU to address the people's priorities. 

He said that although the leaders came from different political groups there should be an open conversation on the values the EU was created for. The EU of tomorrow should continue to represent important values, such as the social aspect.  

Malta, he said, was a proud member of the EU and would continue to promote important values such as justice and good governance, as well as a single market which was fair for all. 

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