EU divided: Bloc rows over new leaders as Tusk says EU 'too far away' to make decision

The European Council President said he is still continuing his work to find suitable names to replace Jean-Claude Juncker. The EU’s most senior official is currently in Japan at the G20 summit facilitating crunch meetings with the bloc’s influential leaders. In a warning that hinted Brussels’ top job debate may not be settled this weekend, he said: “From Osaka I continue my consultations on appointments, including with EU leaders not present at G20.

“Only yesterday, I spoke with 13 leaders on the phone.

“We are getting closer to a solution but are still too far away to be specific.”

Mr Tusk’s warning deals a blow to Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier who is being lined up as the new top candidate for the European People’s Party.

As leaders continue their opposition to German MEP Manfred Weber, who has been nominated the centre-right bloc’s lead candidate, the French eurocrat has emerged as a contender to replace Mr Juncker as European Commission chief.

One EU source said: “It’s clear that the EPP is going to stake its claim for the Commission.

“Manfred Weber’s credentials would have been fine a decade ago but the world has changed.

“With Brexit and the transatlantic tensions, the EU needs an old hand to deal with Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“That’s why the Council has been increasingly sounded out about Barnier.”

EU leaders will resume their top jobs debate on Sunday evening at an emergency summit in Brussels.

But with Britain on the verge of a no deal Brexit, the spectacle is expected to be significantly delayed to ensure continuity in the bloc.

Mr Juncker is expected to delay his departure, which is scheduled for November 1, until at least June next year.

A European government minister revealed in the event of a no deal, the former Luxembourg prime minister is expected to stay in post.

The source told the Times: “If Juncker goes on time, it would mean the first day of a new European Commission would be coping with no-deal Brexit, an earthquake, a mess and a huge negotiation.

“If the British government insisted on making a no deal happen on October 31, there is nothing we can do about it. The only date we can change is the end of Juncker’s mandate. It would be too tricky to have no-deal, the most pressing negotiation in our history and the commission handover at the same time.”

The European Parliament is also expected to delay the announcement of its president, which was set to take place on Tuesday.

But EU sources have revealed this could even be scrapped as the bloc’s leaders strive to deliver a “package presidency deal” across all of the institutions.