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Christine Lagarde to head ECB and Ursula von der Leyen to become European Commission president

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Christine Lagarde, left, and Ursula von der Leyen, right, will be the first women to take their respective roles in European Union leadership. Photo: Associated Press

European Union leaders have finally agreed on who should fill its top roles after a marathon three-day summit in Brussels.

International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde has been picked to take over the leadership of the European Central Bank from Mario Draghi. Lagarde will be the first woman to hold her position.

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen will become European Commission president, and also the first woman to hold the job. Belgian prime minister Charles Michel is poised to become Council president and Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell will be the new high representative for foreign affairs.

Von der Leyen has been part of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet since 2005. She served in several posts, including labour minister and family affairs minister before becoming Germany’s first female defence chief in 2013. Jockeying her ally into the top job in the EU is a hard-won victory for Merkel.

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Von der Leyen, 60, was raised in Brussels and grew up in a political family — her father was the state premier of Lower Saxony. She studied economics and medicine, and is a mother of seven.

French president Emmanuel Macron pushed for her to take the presidency job, and had the support of Italy and the Visegrad countries, who rejected Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans as an option earlier this week.

The defence minister has faced significant criticism at home over the sorry state of the German armed forces and most recently over hiring outside consultants for hundreds of millions of euros to fix the army. But she is well regarded among other member states for pushing for deeper defence cooperation and a European army.

Weeks of fractious haggling behind the scenes and this week’s marathon session in Brussels reflects the splintered results of the EU elections in May. It also reveals how Merkel appeared to have lost her customary dealmaking clout in the second half of her final term.

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Merkel gave up on trying to push her European People’s Party candidate Manfred Weber into the top EU post. Instead, she attempted to hash out out a compromise with Macron during the G20 in Osaka, Japan, that would have given Timmermans the commission presidency in exchange for another leadership role, such as the presidency of the EU parliament, for Weber.

That deal backfired on Monday, after her conservative bloc reacted angrily to the idea of their candidate Weber not becoming Commission president.

The process of appointing new heads of EU institutions got off to a rocky start after Macron rejected the “Spitzenkandidat” (lead candidate) system that automatically appoints the chosen candidate of the winning party group to the presidency of the EU commission.