Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen nominated to lead European Commission

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen has been nominated by EU leaders to head up the European Commission.

After days of stalemate in Brussels, Belgian prime minister Charles Michel has been put forward to lead the European Council, the group of EU leaders; Christine Lagarde of France has been propsed as president of the European Central Bank and veteran Spanish politician Josep Borrell has been nominated as the bloc’s foreign policy chief.

The selections were set out in a series of tweets posted by outgoing European Council president Donald Tusk. He said he expected Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands and Margrethe Vestager of Denmark would be put forward as the deputy heads of the commission.

French president Emmanuel Macron had earlier suggested Ms von der Leyen for the powerful EU executive post and International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Ms Lagarde to run the ECB. They will be the first women to hold the positions, breaking 60 years of male dominance in the EU institutions.

The European Parliament is expected to elect its own president in a vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday, with the main political groups likely to support the former prime minister of Bulgaria, Sergei Stanishev (53). He is an MEP for the Socialists and Democrats political group.

Difficult

The debate over the future leadership proved extremely difficult, with the leaders talking through the night on Sunday, and needing to meet again on Monday and Tuesday to find the right gender, geographical and political balance for the five top jobs soon to be vacant.

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The commission president is responsible for the the EU’s day-to-day affairs and proposes legislation, while the European Council president organises summits of government leaders and brokers compromises.

Leaving the meeting on Tuesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was pleased with the outcome.

Tweet:

Donald Tusk@eucopresident
The European Council has agreed on the future leadership of the EU institutions.

Christine Lagarde@Lagarde
I am honored to have been nominated for the @ECB Presidency. In light of this, and in consultation with the Ethics Committee of the IMF Executive Board, I have decided to temporarily relinquish my responsibilities as IMF Managing Director during the nomination period.

“It may have taken three days, but I think we have had a very good outcome overall for Ireland and for Europe. People of real capabilities are holding these roles,” he said.

The Taoiseach said those chosen were were “friends of Ireland” and he paid particular tribute to Mr Michel.

“I’m really happy to see Charles Michel in there as president of the council, a friend of Ireland… As a Belgian prime minister he really understands Brexit issues because they are among the most affected by it.”

Ms von der Leyen (60) speaks fluent English and French but has had a tough time as defence minister, a post she has held since 2013. Her tenure has been marked by scandals over the awarding of contracts and right-wing extremism in the Bundeswehr, criticism about gaps in military readiness, and a crash between two German Eurofighter jets last month in which a pilot was killed.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said she abstained in an informal vote on her Christian Democrat colleague but that the decision had the unanimous backing of the other leaders. Her selection to replace Jean Claude Juncker in the role will now move on to the European Parliament for consideration.

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Dr Merkel said it was important that the European Union finally achieved broad unity in nominating its future leaders. She said that “everyone had to move and did move”.

“It is important that we were able to decide with great unity today, and that it is important because it’s about our future ability to work.”

Rarity

Ms von der Leyen is a rarity in German politics in that she came to the game late, when she was 42, following a career in medicine.

A mother-of-seven who was born in Brussels and lived in Britain and the US, Ms von der Leyen grew up surrounded by politics. Her father, Ernst Albrecht, was a state premier for the state of Lower Saxony from 1976 to 1990.

She studied at the London School of Economics from 1977 to 1980, but used the pseudonym “Rose Ladson” due to concerns she might be targeted, as the daughter of a prominent politician, by left-wing guerrillas active in West Germany at the time.

A trained gynaecologist, she was once hoisted out of a barrel on German entertainment TV by Hugh Jackman and kissed by George Clooney after handing him an award for promoting peace.

The German defence minister has previously been supportive of greater defence co-operation in the EU, telling a German newspaper earlier this year that “Europe’s army is already taking shape”.

Mr Michel currently heads the Belgian caretaker government. He leads the country’s Francophone liberals (Mouvement Reformateur). He is the son of former EU commissioner and MEP Louis Michel. He qualified as a lawyer at the Brussels Bar and is fluent in Dutch and English in addition to his native French.

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Ms Lagarde was the French finance minister in during president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republican administration and then moved to the role of managing director of the IMF.

Mr Borrell (72) is currently the Spanish foreign minister.

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