Prime minister welcomes new EU top leaders, positive that two are women

Jüri Ratas in Brussels.
Jüri Ratas in Brussels. Source: ERR

All of the newly-nominated European Union leaders are capable, experienced, and well-versed in the main challenges and key issues facing the union, including Brexit, according to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre), Baltic News Service reports.

The announcements on Tuesday followed a protracted extraordinary EU summit, which started on Sunday and included early morning breakfast meetings on the Monday.

Two of the most significant roles are to go to women, for the first time in the union's history.

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) will replace Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission for a five-year term, with International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde getting the European Central Bank (ECB) top job.

"I am certain that Ursula von der Leyen will form a team of capable commissioners, who will start working towards key EU objectives," Ratas said.

"I am also delighted that this time women were found to be best candidates for leading positions at the European Commission and the ECB," he added.

Incoming President of the European Council, Charles Michel, until now prime minister of Belgium (albeit on an interim basis since December), also understands Estonia's interests, Ratas said. Michel will replace Donald Tusk.

"Charles Michel is a representative of a small state, with a good grasp of Estonia's positions and security situation, particularly given that Belgium troops have repeatedly served in Estonia as part of both the Baltic air policing duties and in NATO's enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battle group. My good colleague Michel has also visited Estonia on several occasions," Ratas, who was in Brussels for the negotiations, said.

Ursula von der Leyen also visited Estonia earlier this year. She has been a minister for the past 14 years under Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), and has been an advocate for closer EU integration, calling for a "United States of Europe", BNS reports. Her appointment still requires ratification from the incoming European Parliament composition.

The new parliament also opened on Tuesday, during which MEPs from the U.K.'s Brexit Party chose to turn their backs on a group of young people welcoming the new chamber in playing the "Anthem of Europe", based on the "Ode to Joy", from Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands, outgoing commission vice president, had been in the running for the role and was the Party of European Socialists' (PES) official candidate. However, his potential appointment met with strong opposition from representatives of the Visegrád  countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary), as well as from Italy.

This opposition related to populist-slanted governments in many of those countries, brought into sharp relief by the change in composition of the incoming European Parliament, which has seen a diminution of the formerly dominant conservative European People's Party (EPP) and centre-left PES factions, notwithstanding von der Leyen being from a conservative party herself.

Some other countries, including Latvia and Ireland, also opposed Timmermans' appointment, in this case saying they had not been properly consulted about a deal they said was cooked up on the sidelines of the recent Osaka G20 summit.

Any hopes Timmermans may have had were dashed when Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez abandoned support on Tuesday, BNS reports, citing sources close to the talks.

Protracted wrangling to dish out the EU's top jobs is not new ‒ in 2014 it took three summits to fill the posts, according to BNS.

Urmas Paet: Gender balance biggest gainer in EU leader nominations

Estonian MEP Urmas Paet (Reform/ALDE) hailed the appointment of two women to top positions as a breakthrough, as well as the gains made by his own political group, BNS reports.

"The candidates for the positions of president of the European Commission and head of the European Central Bank are both women and ALDE/RE got the presidency of the Council of Europe. This is the first time ALDE/RE holds a leading position in the European Union," Paet said.

The grouping, the Alliance of Liberal Democrats for Europe (ALDE) has reportedly recently been renamed Renew Europe.

"Geographical balance didn't fare quite as well, however, as there are no representatives of either the Central and Eastern European nations, or the Nordic countries, among the top positions," Paet noted, also pointing out EPP was down to one top post rather than the three it had previously enjoyed.

Meanwhile, Estonia's own woman appointee to the commission, Kadri Simson (Centre) looks set to go ahead despite objections from outgoing commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Juncker had said earlier this month that appointing commissioners for few months did not make sense.

The issue arose as outgoing commisioner Andrus Ansip (Reform) ran for the European Parliament in the May elections, winning a seat. He thus faced a choice between the two roles and, with the commissioner role due to expire in October, he chose to enter parliament.

Whether Simson will continue as commissioner after October remains to be seen. In any event, since both of Estonia's commissioners to date (Ansip and Siim Kallas) had been men, a woman candidate was necessary to provide gender balance.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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