By Pierre Tran
Paris – French and German defense ministers attended an unveiling of a mock-up of a new fighter jet at the Paris air show, even as the two countries compete to fill top jobs in the European Union, and the UK Conservative party limps toward selecting a new prime minister to steer an exit from the EU.
French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel are attending June 20 an EU summit of the European Council in Brussels, seeking to agree on a series of key appointments in leading EU institutions.
Previously, France and Germany agreed to support the same candidates but Macron and Merkel are jostling to field their respective candidates.
There is much to play for, as these senior posts will steer future EU policy, which includes European defense.
This will be the last EU summit for Theresa May, who is stepping down as British prime minister and handing over the task of negotiating Brexit to her successor.
The political appointment is widely expected to be Boris Johnson, who has garnered the most votes in a secret ballot by Conservative party legislators. Paid-up members of the Conservative party, estimated at 160,000, will then get to vote on the two candidates.
That raises the prospect of Johnson moving into 10 Downing Street as the next prime minister, and becoming the political decider on issues such as whether to cooperate with European military projects pursued across the English Channel.
Johnson has campaigned as a fervent supporter of Brexit, insisting on leaving the EU on Oct. 31, whether there is a negotiated deal or not.
Then again, Johnson has also, in a televised debate with Conservative party contenders, fudged on whether he would indeed observe that deadline for departure.
Johnson might one day be asked to consider whether London will bring the British Tempest future fighter jet project closer to the future combat air system (FCAS), in which Berlin, Paris and Madrid have signed up to build a new European fighter.
The competition between France and Germany to appoint senior EU officials includes presidents of the European Commission, the executive arm; European Council, the political forum; European Central Bank; and European parliament.
There are also top jobs to be filled at the EU foreign policy unit and the EU’s recommendation for the next NATO secretary general.
The EU is gearing up to take an active role in defense and security, with the creation of the European Defense Fund, intended as a means to channel investment into research and development of military technology.
The European Parliament will have a word to say as the European members of parliament, fresh from elections last month across the 28 member states, have to the right to endorse the selection of the European Commission president. That endorsement grants political power to the EP, in a bid to respond to criticism of a “democracy deficit.”
British voters took part in the European parliamentary elections last month, and the UK is due to leave on the date which coincides with Halloween.
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