Incoming EU head faces delicate task of forming exec team

European Union president-elect Ursula von der Leyen with her outgoing predecessor, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker. She is trying to accommodate the competing demands of different political parties to make sure her team survives a confirmation vote by MEPs in
European Union president-elect Ursula von der Leyen with her outgoing predecessor, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker. She is trying to accommodate the competing demands of different political parties to make sure her team survives a confirmation vote by MEPs in October PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRUSSELS • While others spend August on the beach, European Union president-elect Ursula von der Leyen works on the delicate task of building a team to run the bloc's executive for the next five years.

After she was only narrowly approved by the European Parliament, the former German defence minister faces a tricky balancing act.

She is trying to accommodate the competing demands of different political parties to make sure her team survives a confirmation vote by MEPs in October.

Each EU state gets to nominate one person to serve on the European Commission, and Ms von der Leyen's executive will have only 27 members instead of the current 28 because of Britain's withdrawal from the EU, expected on Oct 31.

She is still waiting for six countries to name their candidates: France, Italy, Belgium, Croatia, Portugal and Romania have till Aug 26, the deadline imposed by the European Council to appoint representatives to the executive body.

"The unknown will be Italy," said a source close to Ms von der Leyen.

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's decision to pull his far-right League party out of a ruling coalition with the Five Star Movement complicates the appointment of the new Italian commissioner.

Once she has the names and qualifications of all the candidates, Ms von der Leyen will start handing out portfolios, and they will then face confirmation hearings in Parliament next month. The process ends with a vote to inaugurate the new executive on Oct 22 at the Parliament's plenary session.

Twelve men and eight women have already been put forward, according to an Agence France-Presse count based on official announcements.

Seven are members of the centre-right European People's Party, like Ms von der Leyen herself, while another seven are from the centre-left Socialists and Democrats group.

Three belong to the liberal family, while there is one from the Greens, an independent and one member of the Law and Justice Party, which is part of the eurosceptic right in the European Parliament.

A member of Ms von der Leyen's team pointed out that "the nominated candidates will not necessarily be the new commissioners".

Ms Von der Leyen, who takes office on Nov 1, can ask governments to nominate another candidate and the European Parliament might reject some after their hearings.

Ms Von der Leyen has said she will present the Parliament with a gender-balanced commission - but to do this, five of the remaining six nominees will have to be women.

The constitution of the new commission is a "complex and politically sensitive" exercise because many member states are demanding economic portfolios, the most prestigious, said a member of the new president's team.

Chosen by the European Council, Ms von der Leyen's room for manoeuvre is also limited because the Council, which groups the 28 EU heads of state and government, has imposed two vice-presidents. They are Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans and the liberal Margrethe Vestager, and the Council has insisted they be given important responsibilities.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2019, with the headline 'Incoming EU head faces delicate task of forming exec team'. Print Edition | Subscribe