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European Union

Brussels summit eyes Ukraine, top EU jobs

European Union leaders are converging on Brussels for a special summit likely to be dominated by wrangles over vacant top EU jobs and Ukraine's conflict. EU diplomats say new sanctions against Russia could emerge.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived for the Brussels summit late Wednesday, saying Russia's effort to restore peace in Ukraine was "not sufficient." New sanctions would have to be discussed, she said.

"No hostages have been released, the border has not been secured, the contact group isn't working," said Merkel, referring to key demands made by EU leaders on June 27.

In recent weeks, Merkel took part in a series of French-German telephone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

A draft summit statement cited by the news agencies AFP and Reuters indicated that EU leaders want to block loans for new projects in Russia by the European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

EU officials said the language was still being worked on.

So far, the EU has imposed freezes on the accounts of 72 Russians and Ukrainians and two firms in Crimea, which Russia seized in March.

Italy's Mogherini tipped as foreign-policy chief

The reappointed president of the European Parliament, German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, signaled that the assembly's socialist bloc sought the post of EU foreign-policy chief being vacated by Britain's Catherine Ashton.

The front-runner is Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, 41, although Poland and Baltic states have misgivings about her inexperience.

Schulz said Mogherini was "very competent," adding that the claim that she was too young was "unjustified."

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called for a quick decision on the new EU foreign policy chief.

"It's very important that we get a high representative as quickly as possible, because that is needed to get the rest of the puzzle put together," he said

Thorning-Schmidt to replace Van Rompuy?

On Tuesday, the European Parliament approved the choice of conservative former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Junker as future president of the EU's executive body, the European Commission.

Multiple reports indicate that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, 47, has broad support to become president of the European Council, the body which convenes meetings of EU leaders and ministers from the 28-nation bloc.

Outgoing council president Belgian Herman Van Rompuy played a key role in the euro zone debt crisis between 2010 and 2013.

France reportedly has reservations to Thorning-Schmidt, because Denmark, while an EU member, is not a member of the euro zone and retains its own currency.

Juncker, who will attend the summit as president-elect, is likely to propose his commission team in early August from candidates proposed by national governments.

Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said negotiating what he called the "package" was likely to take several weeks.

"We need to find the right balance between political parties, between north and south, between male and female. A lot needs to be taken into account, but the most important thing is competence," said Stubb.

Schulz on Tuesday had warned that parliament might reject the entire team nominated to become EU commissioners if there were too few women.

Britain seeks slot for Hill

Britain, which wants to renegotiate London's EU membership terms by 2017 and which opposed Juncker's appointment, ran into opposition over its nominee, Jonathan Hill on Wednesday.

Schulz told German radio that the European Parliament was likely to reject Hill because of his "radically anti-European views."

The assembly has no veto over individual nominees, but holds a vote of confidence on the full proposed team at the end of the nomination process.

Parliamentary committees hold hearings with designated commissioners in September.

ipj/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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