Saturday 24 August 2019

History is made with first woman elected EU president

Vote winner: Newly elected EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is congratulated by chief of foreign affairs Federica Mogherin. Photo: Reuters
Vote winner: Newly elected EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is congratulated by chief of foreign affairs Federica Mogherin. Photo: Reuters
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

German politician Ursula von der Leyen has been elected as the first woman president of the European Commission by a narrow margin.

In the end, her victory was secured by 383 votes in the European Parliament, just nine more than the 374 she needed to have the support of an overall majority of MEPs.

The 60-year-old German defence minister, doctor and mother of seven last night said she was "honoured" and "overwhelmed". She told MEPs the trust placed in her showed "confidence in a Europe that is ready to fight for the future rather than fighting against each other".

Ms Von der Leyen is a member of the European People's Party which includes Fine Gael's MEPs and is the largest group in the parliament.

Her election came after last-ditch appeals to the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and Renew Europe groups to back her in the secret ballot.

The support of MEPs from both groupings was crucial to the overall result.

Fine Gael's Dublin MEP Frances Fitzgerald congratulated Ms Von der Leyen on becoming the first female commission president, calling it an "historic moment".

Meanwhile, Brexit Party MEP Nigel Farage - who clashed with the commission president-elect earlier in the day - said: "Ursula von der Leyen has scraped in by nine votes." He claimed she has "power but no legitimacy".

The Green Party's Ireland South MEP Grace O'Sullivan said of Ms Von der Leyen's election: "A victory, but a very tight one, and without the support of the Greens group.

"Let's hope we can move forward together to really deliver climate action now and a fairer EU into the future."

Ms Von der Leyen made a pitch for MEPs' support during a debate in Strasbourg yesterday morning.

She highlighted her ambition to make Europe the first carbon neutral continent in the world by 2050 and set tougher targets for reducing carbon emissions.

She promised to work for a "fairer and more equal" EU and a framework to ensure full-time workers earn "a minimum wage that pays for a decent living".

On gender equality, she pledged there will be a 50:50 balance of men and women among her team of EU commissioners.

In relation to Brexit, Ms Von der Leyen said it had been a "serious decision", adding: "We regret it but we respect it."

She stood by the Withdrawal Agreement - which includes the backstop to avoid a hard Border - but has been rejected in Westminster. She said the deal "provides certainty" for peace in Ireland. She said she is "ready" for a further extension to the October 31 Brexit deadline if it is needed and there is a good reason for it. This was met with heckles from Brexit Party MEPs.

Mr Farage claimed Ms Von der Leyen was pushing for a "centralised, undemocratic, updated form of communism" in the EU. He claimed she has made Brexit more popular in the UK and added: "Thank God we're leaving."

Ms Von der Leyen responded speaking of the importance of the EU working with the UK but adding: "I think Mr Farage, we can probably do without what you have got to say here."

UK Liberal Democrat MEP Caroline Voaden urged Ms Von der Leyen to push for a long Brexit extension so Britain "may remain part of this European family".

Richard Corbett, a UK Labour MEP, argued that public opinion is changing in the UK and every opposition party there wants a second referendum. He asked Ms Von der Leyen to "keep that door open".

There had been unrest among many MEPs that she had been selected by EU leaders having rejected the candidates put forward by the Parliament's groupings - the so-called 'spitzenkandidat' process.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) boss Christine Lagarde was nominated as the next president of the European Central Bank (ECB) as part of the package of appointments to senior EU roles decided on earlier this month.

Ms Lagarde last night said she will step down as IMF managing director in September in the interests of the fund citing the time that the ECB president nomination process will take.

Irish Independent

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