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New leaders nominated to take the helm of EU after tense talks

AFP | (From left to right) Christine Lagarde, Charles Michel, Josep Borrell, Ursula von der Leyen, David Sassoli.

After days of fraught negotiations, European Union leaders reached agreement Tuesday on the five key positions to head the EU, with German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyden poised to take over the European Commission presidency.

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A deal was reached after strenuous negotiations Tuesday on nominations for four positions to lead the European Union, with the fifth nomination for president of the EU Parliament agreed on Wednesday. The recommendations, however, have yet to be validated by the EU parliament. 

Two women and three men were chosen following a tense European summit in Brussels.

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the choice of candidates, saying it was partly "the fruit of a profound Franco-German entente".

Macron added, "This decision allows us not to divide Europe, either politically or geographically."

Macron reacts to the bloc's announcements

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission

A protégée of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Von der Leyen has been tipped as a potential successor to the long-serving German leader. Von der Leyen, 60, is a Francophile, which satisfies French President Emmanuel Macron, particularly for her willingness to cooperate on Franco-German defence issues.

She once had a reputation as a flawless politician, but the Brussels-born mother of seven Von der Leyen has had a scandal-prone six-year run as German defence minister, including controversies over right-wing extremism in the armed forces, problems with military readiness and the awarding of arms contracts.

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

Her appointment to replace Jean-Claude Juncker was met with some hostility, particularly from the EU parliament’s Socialist Group. “We are very disappointed with this proposal,” said their representative, Spain’s Iratxe Garcia.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. The Commission is composed of the College of 28 Commissioners (there will only be 27 after the United Kingdom leaves the EU), one per member state in addition to the president.

The president’s term of office is five years, renewable once.

Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank

France’s Christine Lagarde, 63, has made a career of breaking through glass ceilings. She was France's first female minister of finance, the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the first woman to head a large American law firm.

The president of the European Central Bank holds a single eight-year term of office, during which Lagarde will formulate and implement the EU’s monetary policy, in particular the credit conditions that affect many of the EU’s 508 million citizens.

She will be chairperson of both the European Monetary Institute executive board, and of the Governing Council – the bank's main decision-making body. The ECB president also casts the deciding vote when it comes to raising or lowering interest rates and other such critical mechanisms in the EU economy.

The president reports quarterly to the European Parliament and delivers speeches that are closely scrutinised by global financial markets. A single phrase can change the bloc’s economic course and can impact economies around the world. Former ECB president Mario Draghi was credited with saving the euro in July 2012 by stating firmly that the EU would do “whatever it takes” to boost the single currency.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, 43, is a French-speaking liberal and a member of the Reformist Movement party (MR). He had an early start in politics and quickly rose through the ranks, following in the footsteps of his father who had been a former European commissioner (Louis Michel). He led a coalition government five years ago with the N-VA (Flemish nationalists), a party that advocates the independence of Flanders from Belgium.

The European Council is the body that represents the bloc’s heads of state. It is responsible for defining the Union’s guidelines and driving its political goals. The permanent president position has only existed since 2009 and is primarily responsible for generating consensus among the member states. When he takes over from current incumbent Donald Tusk, Michel will be responsible for coordinating and presiding over European summits (which usually bring together the bloc’s leaders in Brussels) and will represent the EU abroad alongside the president of the Commission.

The term of office is two and a half years and is renewable once.

Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief

Catalan Josep Borrell, 72, is firmly against Catalonia's secession from Spain. This outspoken Spanish socialist has been very active in recent months on the issue of Venezuela and is regularly critical of US President Donald Trump’s administration.

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was created 10 years ago and is the bloc’s top diplomat. The role coordinates the EU’s external and defence policy, which is always a delicate task for member states.

The foreign policy chief, appointed for five years, is a member of both the European Commission and the European Council, chairing meetings of foreign ministers and attending summits for heads of state or government.

Sassoli has a 'diplomatic' job to do

David Sassoli, president of the EU Parliament

Italian Social Democrat MEP David Sassoli, 63, won on Wednesday a vote to become the new president of the European Parliament, completing the roster of top EU jobs. Sassoli, a former journalist from Florence, has been a lawmaker in the EU parliament for a decade.

Sassoli won 345 votes in the second round of voting, a majority of ballots cast by the MEPs. He will replace outgoing president Antonio Tajani in the role, which is similar to a chairperson or speaker.

In his inaugural speech, Sassoli urged Europeans to counter the "virus" of extreme nationalism and called for a reform of EU rules on migration and political asylum.

He was elected after two rounds of voting, obtaining 345 votes in the 751-member assembly.

He said negotiations with Britain over Brexit should be carried out with "good sense and a spirit of dialogue and friendship".

"For us it is painful to conceive of London far from Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Rome," he said. Parliament's backing is necessary to finalise the deal over Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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