EU head von der Leyen announces team, new focus

Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, the first female head of the European Commission, promises "a greener, fairer, and rule-based Europe."

Virginia Mayo/AP
Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels, Sept. 10, 2019. Ms. von der Leyen unveiled her team of candidates for the EU commission.

The incoming head of the EU executive named her 27-strong team on Tuesday, promising it would focus on addressing changes in climate, technology, and demography that are generating anxiety in communities across the 28-member bloc.

German Ursula von der Leyen's "college" of commissioners will take office on Nov. 1, assuming they secure approval from the European Parliament – not a given after it only narrowly backed her in July.

Announcing the key roles in her line-up, she said Denmark's Margrethe Vestager would remain in charge of competition policy.

She also put Irishman Phil Hogan in charge of trade, a crucial position that will require him to settle the European Union's trade relations with post-Brexit Britain and with the United States.

Ms. von der Leyen will become the first woman to head the European Commission after promising a platform of a greener, fairer, and rule-based Europe.

Her proposed team offers rough gender balance, a plus point for EU lawmakers, with 13 women and 14 men.

"This team will shape the European Way: we will take bold action against climate change, build our partnership with the United States, define our relations with a more self-assertive China and be a reliable neighbor, for example to Africa," she said in a statement.

"This team will have to stand up for our values and world-class standards. ... My Commission will be a geopolitical Commission committed to sustainable policies. And I want the European Union to be the guardian of multilateralism. Because we know that we are stronger by doing together what we cannot do alone."

Holding the influential competition portfolio for the past five years, Vestager has fought monopolies and imposed hefty fines on tech giants Apple and Alphabet unit Google .

Competition is seen as a top job, with Germany and France pressing for the bloc to soften its anti-monopoly rules to help European industrial champions compete with rivals from China and the United States.

Hogan, currently in charge of agriculture in the outgoing Commission, will face a battle to resolve trade tensions with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration and will be in charge of establishing future economic relations with Britain after Brexit.

The economic portfolio goes to former Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni at a time when the continent is struggling with weak growth, a possible recession in Germany, and battles with Italy over budgetary restraint.

The outgoing commission has long tussled with Italy over fiscal rules in past years. The appointment of an Italian leftist to monitor Rome's compliance with EU budget rules could be seen as a lenient move.

However, Mr. Gentiloni will have to agree budget decisions with former Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, who has a reputation as a tough enforcer of fiscal discipline and will be in charge overall of the Commission's economic affairs.

This story was reported by Reuters.

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