EU summit for top posts enters third day

Dutchman Frans Timmermans has been blocked from running the EU's executive Commission. (AAP)

EU leaders have convened for a third day of discussions over the bloc's top positions after Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans was blocked as EC head.

The European Union's leaders have gathered for a third consecutive day of arm-wrestling over the 28-nation bloc's key posts, with little sign that fundamental differences can be narrowed.

Leaders are trying to balance political affiliations in the fragmented bloc, the varying interests of regions and an acute lack of women in senior ranks.

Some leaders dozed off from exhaustion in the small hours of Monday during talks that ended with Italy and ex-communist eastern states blocking socialist Dutchman Frans Timmermans from taking up the highest-profile post, that of president of the EU executive, the European Commission.

The Commission presidency, currently held by Jean-Claude Juncker, is the marquee post among five at stake that will shape bloc policy in everything from commerce to climate and migration.

Arriving on Tuesday, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters: "We're just asking that Mr Timmermans is not acceptable."

But Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne said a series of meetings between EU leaders since Monday afternoon should be enough to unlock a deal.

It is highly unusual for a summit to run into a third day, and this round is already the third attempt to decide the jobs.

The inability to reach consensus bolsters criticism from anti-establishment nationalists and undermines the EU's image as it faces multiple external challenges from the US, Russia, Iran and China among others.

Apart from the Commission, which monitors states' budgets and proposes new laws, other top jobs up for grabs later this year include the presidents of the European Parliament and the European Central Bank, as well as the top diplomat in Brussels. The fifth position is the head of the European Council, whose job is to build compromises among member states.

EU leaders must seal a deal on Tuesday or risk being overtaken by the new European Parliament, which holds an inaugural session after a continent-wide election in May. It is due to pick its new president on Wednesday and could act independently, barring an agreement by the 28 leaders.

The new EU assembly's approval is required for the Commission president that the national leaders nominate.

While Timmermans had enough support to be nominated under EU rules, opposition from Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia risked poisoning future decision-making.

The eastern nationalist governments resent Timmermans for challenging them over curbs on the independence of judges, media, academics and non-governmental groups.

Leaders emerged frustrated on Monday from the all-night talks, with French President Emmanuel Macron dubbing them a failure and saying there could be no further EU enlargement without reforms to enable smoother functioning.

His initial deal with Angela Merkel to endorse Timmermans collapsed as the weakened German chancellor failed to deliver her fellow centre-right peers.

The parliament's spokesman said the post would be filled on Wednesday, whether or not national leaders reach agreement on Tuesday.

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