Sunday, August 18, 2019

EU nominates Ursula von der Leyen as Commission president

  • >> Steven Erlanger and Matina Stevis-Gridneff, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-07-03 14:55:31 BdST

After gruelling and bitter negotiations, the European Union on Tuesday finally decided on the heads of its key institutions, making history by putting forward two women for the most important jobs at a moment when the bloc’s unity is being tested as never before.

After the sort of exhausting, grinding process for which the bloc is now infamous, European leaders nominated two conservatives, the German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, as European Commission president, and the French head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, as head of the European Central Bank.

They ascended weeks after a new Parliament was elected that saw the larger parties losing ground to smaller, more ideological ones, testing the limits of the bloc’s need for consensus among 28 members that are increasingly divided — between West and East, conservative versus progressive, federalist European versus populist.

German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen visits the site where German armed forces helicopter crashed in Dehmke near Hanover, Germany, Jul 1, 2019 REUTERS

German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen visits the site where German armed forces helicopter crashed in Dehmke near Hanover, Germany, Jul 1, 2019 REUTERS

Ultimately, the negotiations were all about papering over those differences. If it was messy, the haggling also underscored how the EU matters more and more as the bloc struggles to respond to the challenges of migration, climate change, President Vladimir V Putin of Russia, inequality and the rise of populists.

Not least, there is a lot of chaos now in Europe and in the trans-Atlantic relationship, with President Donald Trump threatening a trade war, serious divisions over how to deal with Iran and the continuing psychodrama of Brexit, which is a slowly ticking crisis with a possible no-deal explosion at its end.

Von der Leyen, 60, the multilingual German defence minister, will now replace Jean-Claude Juncker as the bloc’s most prominent bureaucrat, attending G-20 summit meetings and advancing EU interests in negotiations with the United States, China and other major powers.

In a package deal of political ideologies, gender and region, the leaders also decided to name Charles Michel, 43, the young acting Belgian prime minister, a liberal, as president of the European Council of heads of state and government, replacing Donald Tusk, and proposed Josep Borrell Fontelles, 72, a former Spanish foreign minister, as the new foreign-policy chief, to replace Federica Mogherini.

Arriving at a consensus, always a challenge for the diverse members of the EU, was particularly hard this time around. Divisions in a more fragmented Europe proved harder to bridge.

© 2019 New York Times News Service