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EU leaders break deadlock to nominate candidates for top posts

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen has been backed to become president of the European Commission.

Donald Tusk speaks during a media conference (Virginia Mayo/AP)
Donald Tusk speaks during a media conference (Virginia Mayo/AP)

EU leaders broke a deadlock on Tuesday after three days of arduous negotiations and nominated German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen to become the new president of the European Commission, and take over from Jean-Claude Juncker for the next five years.

European Council president Donald Tusk said in a series of tweets that Belgian prime minister Charles Michel would take over from him in the autumn.

Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde was proposed as president of the European Central Bank, while Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell was nominated to become EU foreign policy chief, meaning he would be charged with supervising the Iran nuclear deal, among other duties.

Only Mr Michel can take up his post in November without other formalities.

The others, notably Ms von der Leyen, must be endorsed by the European Parliament.

The assembly sits in Strasbourg, in France, on Wednesday to elect its own new president.

Mr Michel said: “I am conscious of this huge responsibility and of course I will do my best to fulfil this task.”

He said the challenges facing the EU “are numerous, they are enormous”.

He acknowledged that as summit chairman for the next five years it would be “crucial” to work closely with the EU’s other institutions.

He said the time ahead is “very important for the future of the European project and I am convinced that it will be very important to protect and to promote our unity, our diversity and especially also our solidarity”.

“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.

There have already been objections 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 Mr Juncker, who steps down on October 31 as head of the commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws.

Mr 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 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,” Mr Tusk said, with a wry smile.

Ms von der Leyen would be the first woman in the commission job, and Mrs Merkel said this is “a good sign”.

So would Ms Lagarde – currently chair of the International Monetary Fund – 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 Taoiseach 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.

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.

Mr Tusk had 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, Mr 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.”



From Belfast Telegraph