Two women picked for top EU jobs
The leaders of EU member states have nominated two women to Brussels’ most important jobs for the first time, picking Ursula von der Leyen (pictured), the German defence minister, to be the next president of the European Commission and Christine Lagarde to head the European Central Bank.
They agreed to pick Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as president of the European Council, which represents the 28 member states.
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell is set to become the foreign policy chief.
A gynaecologist who only entered politics in her early 40s, Von der Leyen’s selection to replace Jean-Claude Juncker is a victory for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s moves to place a German member of her centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) at the top of the bloc’s executive branch for the next five years from November 1.
It would be the first time in 52 years that a German would head the commission.
But Germany abstained from the decision because Merkel’s Social Democratic coalition partners did not support the proposals.
French President Emmanuel Macron proposed that Von der Leyen lead the commission after Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Italy rejected the candidacy of the socialist Dutch former foreign minister Frans Timmermans over his criticism of populist governments which had undermined judicial independence.
Donald Tusk, the outgoing president of the European Council, said after the prolonged talks: “I am really happy about it – after all, Europe is a woman. I think that it was worth waiting for such an outcome.”
Von der Leyen’s appointment may face stiff resistance in the European Parliament with the nomination requiring approval by an absolute majority of the 751 MEPs.
The 60-year-old faces allegations of misspending and mismanagement of German defence contracts over the hiring of two consulting firms, McKinsey and Accenture.
The minister, who studied at the London School of Economics before taking a medical degree, may also face questions about her overall performance as defence chief, given widespread criticism of the German military as being in a relatively poor state of readiness compared to its Nato allies.
On Brexit, Von der Leyen has backed the commission’s position on the Northern Irish border guarantees and criticised the “hollow promises” of UK leavers.
Tusk said the new leadership would offer no new concessions on any Brexit agreement.
The former Polish prime minister said: “I am absolutely sure that the new leaders of our institutions will be as consistent as we are today when it comes to the withdrawal agreement and our readiness to discuss our future relationship with the UK.”
The politics of a German leading the European Commission could prove divisive. Picture credit: Wikimedia