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

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EU leaders have put forward their nominations for the bloc’s top jobs, with a woman for the first time proposed as European Commission chief.

The surprise choice of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen to replace Jean-Claude Juncker came after the main front-runners were rejected.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde has been nominated as the first woman to head the European Central Bank (ECB).

The announcement follows days of difficult negotiations.

In all, EU leaders were tasked with nominating five people for the top jobs.

Belgian liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel is nominated to replace European Council President Donald Tusk while Spain’s Josep Borrell is proposed as foreign policy chief.

The fifth key role – president of the European Parliament – is to be chosen on Wednesday. Possible candidates include German centre-right MEP Manfred Weber and Bulgarian socialist Sergei Stanishev.

Most of the roles must be ratified by parliament.

Is everyone happy with the choices?

“We have agreed the whole package before the first session of the European Parliament,” said Mr Tusk.

He said Germany had abstained on Mrs Von der Leyen’s nomination over coalition issues but pointed out that Chancellor Angela Merkel herself had backed her.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the nominations were “the fruit of a deep Franco-German entente”.

“Von der Leyen is a very good candidate and a very good choice to head the European Commission,” he told reporters, adding that Ms Lagarde’s “capacities and competences… totally qualified her” for the ECB.

Media captionDonald Tusk announces choices for top European Commission jobs

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the nomination of two women for key jobs sent a powerful message that the EU was leading the way towards gender equality.

However, there were concerns that the European Parliament’s own contest for the main job – the “Spitzenkandidaten” (lead candidate) process – had been cast aside. Neither the winner of that process, Manfred Weber of Germany, nor other frontrunners were selected by EU leaders.

“You have to compromise in politics,” Mr Varadkar insisted, adding that the centre-right Mr Weber would most likely be given the shared presidency of the European Parliament along with a Socialist figure.

Ursula von der Leyen – if confirmed as new European Commission president – will not bring winds of change to Brussels. She’s loyal to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a true Christian Democrat and a conservative Europhile.

As for Brexit, remember, the European Commission negotiated on behalf of EU member states. Those negotiations ended when the UK government signed off on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement back in November.

The only ones now with the legal power to change or add to the text are EU national leaders, not the commission. And what these days of indecision among national leaders over these top EU jobs have shown us is that while France and Germany are still powerful, they are not all-powerful in EU circles any more.

Chancellor Merkel and President Macron were unable to impose on others the EU job allocation plan agreed between them at the G20. Something for the new UK prime minister to consider, perhaps, ahead of planning trips to Berlin and Paris to request a renegotiation of the Brexit deal.

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