EU leaders agreed to nominate the current German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to be the first woman president of the EU commission on Tuesday (2 July) – but only after three consecutive days of discussions that often exposed deep division among the 28 heads of state and government.
The EU parliament still needs to give its final approval for von der Leyen, and many MEPs are angered by the deal, which picked a commission president who was not a lead candidate in the European elections last May.
The EU leaders also named Belgian premier Charles Michel to be EU council president, and chose Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell to head the EU’s foreign affairs service.
The leaders also agreed to name French head of the International Monetary Fund, Christian Lagarde to run the European Central Bank (ECB) later this year.
The compromise deal came late on Tuesday after the first set of proposals, putting Dutch Socialist commissioner Frans Timmermans in the commission top job, met heavy resistance from the eastern European countries of the Visegrad Four, plus Italy and several leaders hailing from the European People’s Party (EPP) group.
The EPP won the election last May, despite some losses, and wanted the commission top job for one of their peers.
However, EU diplomats pointed out that the real entrenched resistance to Timmermans came from Italy and the Visegrad Four, where particularly Hungary and Poland had clashed with Timmermans over the Warsaw and Budapest government’s curbing of rule of law and democracy over the past two years.
The 60-years old conservative Von Der Leyen’s name came into play on Monday in the early hours, but was proposed seriously for the commission post by French president Emmanuel Macron, who also suggested that Lagarde be the ECB chief.
“This accord is the fruit of a deep Franco-German entente,” Macron later told reporters.
Germany, Italy, and others, including the Visegrad Four came on board as Tuesday was spent mostly on EU Council president Donald Tusk consulting with EU leaders on the new constellation of names – with von der Leyen in the commission position.
“We believe that this is a good group of people that we have nominated,” German chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the meeting.
“It is a good thing that for the very first time a woman is going to hold that. I welcome that, irrespective of any country or party considerations on my part,” she said.
Von Der Leyen, a Brussels-born Merkel-ally, was in the end supported unanimously by EU leaders, except for Merkel, who ironically needed to abstain – although leaders did not take a formal vote – because her domestic coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD) in Berlin, did not support the package.