Tuesday

16th Jul 2019

Who are the EU's new leaders?

  • The unexpected figure of Ursula von der Leyen steps up to the top EU job (Photo: Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau)

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president

Ursula von der Leyen (1958) is a German politician from the CDU. Since 2013, she has been the minister of defence of Germany and the first woman in that function. And she is the only minister to have served in all four governments of German chancellor Angela Merkel. From 2005 until 2009 von der Leyen was minister of family affairs and youth, and from 2009 until 2013 minister of labour and social affairs.

Ursula von der Leyen was born in Brussels to a family of EU officials (Photo: Wikipedia)

Von der Leyen is the daughter of a European official (director-general) at the European Commission from 1958 onwards, the year the commission was established. She is born in Ixelles, Brussels and lived there until she was 13 years old. In 1971, the family moved to Lower Saxony, where her father was prime minister from 1976 until 1990. In 1991, von der Leyen graduated as a doctor of medicine.

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In 2010, von der Leyen was Merkel's candidate for the presidency of Germany, but her candidacy was blocked by a more conservative part of the CDU/CSU. In 2015, when Hungary used the water cannon and teargas against refugees at the Hungarian-Serbian border von der Leyen called the measures of prime minister Victor Orban "not acceptable and against the European rules we have". Von der Leyen is a convinced European federalist, being in favour of a united states of Europe and a European army in the long term.

Charles Michel, EU Council president

Charles Michel (1975) is the prime minister of Belgium. He is the son of Louis Michel, a former European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid. From 2007 until 2010 Michel was the Belgian minister for development aid in four different governments.

Charles Michel - more dealmaker than visionary (Photo: Council of the European Union)

One of these governments was headed by prime minister Herman Van Rompuy, who became the first president of the European Council from 2009 until 2014. In 2010 Michel resigned as a minister in order to become president of the Belgian francophone liberal party, Mouvement Reformateur (MR). In this position he negotiated the formation of the Belgian government in 2014. Of this government Michel became prime minister in for Belgium rather extraordinary circumstances.

While the Flemish side of the government consisted of three parties, the MR was the only party on the francophone side.The government eventually collapsed when the largest Flemish party, NVA, left the government in December 2018, when Michel signed the UN Global Compact for Migration, with the support of the two other Flemish parties. The government continued until the elections of May 2019 without a majority in the parliament. Belgian political insiders characterise Michel as not being a visionary, but a dealmaker - a quality you cannot do without if you want to lead a complicated country like Belgium.

Josep Borrell, EU foreign affairs chief

The 72-year old Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, is making his return to high-level EU politics after having led the European Parliament between 2004 and 2007. Prior to taking up the EU foreign policy chief post, he stood out by leading EU diplomacy on the Venezuela crisis and by campaigning against Catalan independence. He has also mocked "cowboy" US president Donald Trump for threatening military intervention in Caracas and proposing to build an anti-migrant wall across the Sahara desert.

Josep Borrell (r) rose from humble origins as a baker's son (Photo: PSOE)

Borrell rose from humble origins, as a baker's son in a village in the mountains of north Catalonia. He also worked on building sites, farms, and in restaurants and vineyards in his youth. He trained as an engineer in Madrid and obtained masters degrees in the US and in France.

He joined the socialist party, the PSOE, in 1975 and entered politics in 1979 by becoming a councillor in Madrid. He then held the posts of finance secretary of state and minister of public works and transport before taking the party chair in 1998. His finance stint saw him battle a flamenco star, Lola Flores, in a famous 1980s tax-evasion case, but he later stepped down himself as party head after a fraud investigation and more recently he was fined €30,000 for insider trading in an energy firm.

Borrell also represented Spain on the convention which drafted the defunct European constitution in 2001, where he was credited with helping keep references to Christianity out of the charter. Also an advocate of LGBTI rights, he said at the time: "When it comes to democracy, human rights and equality, God is a recent convert. He was comfortable for centuries with slavery".

Lagarde set to lead ECB

The Frankfurt-based European Central Bank is set to get its first female leadership after the EU leaders in Brussels nominated Christine Legarde, who is current managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

EU leaders nominate first female EU commission chief

An ally of Angela Merkel, the female Germany defence minister has been nominated by EU leaders for the commission top job. Ursula von der Leyen still needs to be approved by the EU Parliament, where she will meet some resistance.

Feature

Who is Frans Timmermans?

The Dutch frontrunner for president of the European Commission is popular at home - but seen as the personification of an unfairly-critical Brussels in some central and eastern member states.

Analysis

EU top jobs: winners, losers, and institutional battles

The decision on the top jobs shed light on key developments in the EU: the changing of the centre-right guard, the failure of the spitzen-system, Germany's confidence, Macron's political success, and the illiberal problem.

Greens eye 'kingmaker' role among MEPs for von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen immediately visited the European Parliament on Wednesday in order to gather support for her nomination to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as EU Commission president. The Greens will now be key for her to secure the job.

News in Brief

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  3. Full text of von der Leyen candidacy speech to MEPs
  4. Von der Leyen open to further Brexit delay
  5. Von der Leyen promises carbon border tax
  6. Brexit: both UK PM candidates say Irish backstop is 'dead'
  7. Mogherini: Iran's nuclear enrichment 'reversible'
  8. Report: Selmayr to leave 'next week'

Opinion

Weber: Six proposals in wake of Spitzenkandidat process

I will not lament the decision-making process that resulted in a package deal on the new leadership in Europe. I respect this result, which was in accordance with the treaties and therefore not undemocratic, albeit unsatisfactory.

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