After three days of intense talks, there’s a touch of female know-how at the European institutions. Late on July 2, EU leaders agreed on German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen (pictured above) as their candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, while Christine Lagarde, the current managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has been nominated as president of the European Central Bank.
The conservative Mrs von der Leyen, a member of Angela Merkel’s CDU, was supported by France, Germany, Italy and the increasingly important Visegrád Group (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic).
The European Parliament will have the final say. If confirmed, Mrs von der Leyen would become the commission’s first-ever female chief.
The rejection of the two lead candidates, Manfred Weber of the EPP, and Frans Timmermans of the Socialists and Democrats, has led many European leaders to question the spitzenkandidat system. “The entire system needs to be reviewed,” said Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Mr Weber has since announced that he no longer wants to be considered for any top position. Mr Timmermans has been offered a commission vice presidency, along with Margrethe Vestager of Renew Europe.
Long considered the favourite for the top job Mr Timmermans, a fervent believer in tying EU funds to respect for the rule of law, was vehemently opposed by the Visegrád countries.
“We have said that we do not want Mr Timmermans as European Commission president for various reasons. It is unacceptable for us, it would be a total catastrophe,” Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš said in Brussels.
According to Mr Babiš, Mr Timmermans had a negative view of the region.
“We want a commission chief with whom we can discuss normally,” the Czech PM added.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán likened events at the extraordinary EU summit to a crime thriller.
“The root of the conflict is the fact that some European leaders, including Frans Timmermans and Manfred Weber, have decided that over the next five years the European Commission should be led by someone who is an unwavering representative of the network of [George] Soros-style NGOs and liberal democracy,” he said.
“It would in itself be sufficient reason to reject Frans Timmermans because he is George Soros’s man; but in addition to that, the members of the Visegrád Group do not support his nomination as president of the commission because he is an ideological warrior and fights against anyone whose view of the world is different from his way of thinking,” Mr Orbán added.
Leaders hope the decision to nominate two women to the top of EU’s decision-making structures for the first time will send a positive message and repair the damage wrought by such a fractious summit.
“After all, Europe is a woman,” said the outgoing EU Council president Donald Tusk, referring to the ancient Greek mythical figure of Europa, who gave her name to the continent.
Photo: Dirk Vorderstraße