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EU leaders tap German defense minister to lead Commission

July 3, 2019

Ursula Von der Leyen would be the European Commission's first female president. The European Parliament needs to confirm the nominations for the four top jobs in the EU.

Ursula von der Leyen
Image: picture alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

The European Council proposed German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to become European Commission president, European Council President Donald Tusk said.

Von der Leyen, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives (CDU/CSU), would be the first female Commission president if confirmed by the European Parliament. Her nomination needs an absolute majority of the chamber's 751 members to be ratified.

Tusk welcomed the gender balance in the nominations for the four top EU jobs: "First and foremost, we have chosen two women and two men for the four key positions. A perfect gender balance. I am really happy about it."

All four top jobs need to be confirmed by the European Parliament. 

Picks for key posts

As part of a package deal:

  • Charles Michel was nominated European Council president. He is currently serving as acting Belgian premier.
  • Christine Lagarde was nominated for European Central Bank president. She previously served as France's finance minister and is currently the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  • Josep Borrell Fontelles was nominated for High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. He is currently serving as Spanish foreign minister.

Read more: Who is the IMF's Christine Lagarde?

IMF Director Christine Lagarde
IMF Director Christine LagardeImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Thys

Read moreEU nominations 2019: Who is Belgium's Charles Michel?

Belgian interim Prime Minister Charles Michel
Belgian interim Prime Minister Charles Michel Image: AFP/G. van der Hasselt

Read moreEU nominations 2019: Who is Spain's Josep Borrell?

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles
Tipped to take over from foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, current Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell FontellesImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Sharma

Finding a 'balance'

Merkel said von der Leyen's nomination was made unanimously by EU leaders save for one abstention, by herself. French President Emmanuel Macron described the package deal as "the fruit of a deep Franco-German entente."

Tusk said von der Leyen would have to ensure "geographic balance" with her vice presidential nominations. He said it was up to the European Parliament to decide whether to support her nomination.

Outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said "it won't be easy in parliament."

'Deeply disappointing'

EU lawmakers criticized the Council's decision to disregard the lead candidate system whereby each bloc picks a nominee for the Commission president.

The Greens parliamentary bloc said the deal "fails to respect the lead candidate process and the results of the European elections. We need a political change in Europe."

Iratxe Garcia, who leads the Socialists and Democrats bloc (S&D) in the European Parliament, described the nominations as "unacceptable," saying, "Our group has remained firm in the defense of European democracy and the leading candidate process."

The S&D's lead candidate, Frans Timmermans, had been in the running to get the nomination ahead of Tuesday's talks. But his name was dropped amid strong resistance from eastern European member states and lawmakers from the largest bloc in the European Parliament, the European Peoples' Party (EPP).

The EPP's lead candidate, German conservative Manfred Weber, withdrew his name from the running as talks on Tuesday crystallized on picking von der Leyen. His candidacy became increasingly untenable after Macron refused to endorse him over his relative lack of experience in high office.

Read more: What does the European Parliament actually do?

What happens next?

Von der Leyen's nomination must now be approved by a simple majority in the European Parliament.

The ECB head and EU foreign policy chief also require approval from the EU's legislature. The European Council president is the only post which does not require further approval.

Outgoing Commission President Juncker is expected to step down on October 31.

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ls/ap (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)