EU leaders reach agreement on bloc's top jobs

Odd Andersen et Mohd Rasfan, AFP | Two women, Ursula von der Leyen and Christine Largarde, were appointed to key EU positions on Tuesday 2 July 2019.

European Union leaders agreed Tuesday to name Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde as the new head of the European Central Bank and sealed a deal on filling the other four top jobs in the bloc after tortuous marathon talks exposed their deepening divisions.


“The European Council has agreed on the future leadership of the EU institutions,” said Donald Tusk, chairman of the EU leaders’ talks.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, would become head of the European Commission, the EU executive, under the deal reached in Brussels.

Belgium’s liberal caretaker prime minister, Charles Michel, would replace Tusk as the next chairman of EU leaders’ summits and be tasked with building compromises between the often fractious 28 member states.

Only Michel can take up his post in November without other formalities. The others, notably von der Leyen, must be endorsed by the European Parliament.

"It is important that we were able to decide with great unity today, and that is important because it's about our future ability to work," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the nominations -- decided away from the cameras and media in a long series of meetings -- were made public.

Several lawmakers have already objected to the leaders' package of nominations, and it remains to be seen whether the parliament will flex new-found muscles following the massive turnout for EU-wide elections in May. Party leaders have said the vote has brought the assembly -- the EU's only elected institution --  even more democratic legitimacy.

"It won't be easy in parliament," said Juncker, who steps down on October 31 as head of the commission.

Tusk said "it was worth waiting for such an outcome", and that he would do his best to explain to what could well be a tetchy parliament on Thursday how the nominations were made and what thought processes went into the move.

"It's always a huge question mark. This is why we have parliaments," Tusk said, with a wry smile.

Women take top jobs for first time

Von der Leyen would be the first woman in the commission job, and Merkel said this is "a good sign".

The 60-year-old conservative’s name came in the frame for the post after an earlier proposal to name Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans ran into insurmountable opposition.

Von der Leyen had the crucial backing of French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as the support of the Visegrad 4 bloc -- Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

This saved von der Leyen from the fate suffered by Timmermans, who was suggested by France and Germany as commission chief instead of the early front-runner Manfred Weber.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that the nominations were “positive and consensual” and offered a fresh start for the bloc.

“This accord is the fruit of a deep Franco-German entente,” Macron told a news conference.

Macron reacts to the bloc's announcements

Lagarde - currently chair of the International Monetary Fund – would also be the first woman to head the European Central Bank and she would serve for up to eight years if her nomination is endorsed.

"That's a very important statement that Europe leads on gender equality," Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.

"It might have taken three days, but it's a good outcome overall," he told reporters.

The nominations came after one of the longest summits in recent years, outstripping even all-night negotiations during the Greek debt crisis.

Already plagued by crises like Brexit and deep divisions among nations over how best to manage migration, the leaders had been keen to show that they could take quick decisions and that the European project remains important to its citizens.

'It's also a victory for Macron because he demonstrated his leadership'

But they struggled to establish a delicate balance between population size and geography - an even mix of countries from the north and south, east and west, and ensure that at least two women were nominated. Tusk he said he hoped that someone from a central or eastern European member state would be voted in as president of the European Parliament.

Despite deep tensions, some tantrums by leaders behind the scenes and even public criticism of his handling of the summit, Tusk said: "Five years ago we needed three months to decide, and still some leaders were against. This year it was three days and nobody was against."


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