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EU leaders agree on nominees for top posts

03 Jul 2019 / EU Print

EU leaders agree on nominees for top posts

EU leaders have finally agreed on their nominations for the bloc's top jobs.

For the first time, a woman has been proposed as President of the European Commission. German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has been described as a “surprise choice” to replace Jean-Claude Juncker after the main front-runners were rejected.

And in another first, Christine Lagarde (currently managing director and chairwoman of the International Monetary Fund) has been nominated as the first woman president of the European Central Bank (ECB).

President of the European Council

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has been elected President of the European Council to replace Donald Tusk. His role does not need to be ratified by the European Parliament. He is scheduled to assume office on 1 December 2019. 

In addition, Spain's Josep Borrell Fontelles has been proposed as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – effectively the EU’s top diplomat.

The announcements come after days of difficult negotiations.

The fifth key role -- President of the European Parliament – will be chosen today (Wednesday). Possible candidates include German centre-right MEP Manfred Weber and Bulgarian socialist Sergei Stanishev.

Apart from the position of the President of the European Council, all roles will need to be ratified by the European Parliament. 

Legal eagles

Of the four nominees, two hold qualifications in law. European Council President Charles Michel chairs the body that comprises the leaders of the EU Member States who define the EU's political direction.

In 2014, Mr Michel (then 38) became Belgium's youngest prime minister since 1841. He graduated in law at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the University of Amsterdam in 1998, after which he became lawyer at the Brussels Bar.

He was elected a member of the Belgian parliament in 1999. He is a native French speaker and is fluent in both Dutch and English.

Mr Michel's father Louis Michel is also a prominent politician and MEP. He serves on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and, in July 2016, Louis joined the Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion (PANA), which is investigating the Panama Papers revelations, and tax avoidance schemes generally.

Portrait of 3rd most powerful woman

As President of the ECB, Lagarde will be responsible for the euro and the monetary policy of the eurozone. She will be taking over from Mario Draghi, who is regarded as having excelled in the role.

Ms Lagarde (63) is French and was the first woman to head the IMF when she assumed the position in 2011 for a five-year term. In July 2016, she was re-elected to the IMF position for a second five-year term.

A notable aspect of her teenage years is that Lagarde was a member of the French national synchronised swimming team. After her baccalauréat in 1973, she took up an American Field Service scholarship to the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland.

During that year, Lagarde worked as an intern at the US Capitol as a congressional assistant, helping Republican Representative William Cohen to correspond with French-speaking constituents during the Watergate hearings.

She graduated from Paris West University Nanterre La Défense, where she obtained master's degrees in English, labour law, and social law. She also holds a master's degree from the Institut d'Études Politiques in Aix-en-Provence. 

Banana skin

Ms Lagarde was appointed France's trade minister in 2005 and finance minister in 2007. In 2016, she was investigated for abuse of authority during her time as finance minister.

She was convicted in a French court for failing to challenge a €404 million award to French businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008 over the sale of the sportswear brand, Adidas. Tapie was ordered to pay back the €404 million, with interest. Lagarde did not serve a sentence and has always defended her decision, saying it was "the best solution at the time".

In 2018, Lagarde was ranked the third most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine. 

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