After weeks of frenzied backroom wrangling, European leaders on July 2 nominated four federalists to fill the top jobs of the European Union. The nominations — which must be approved by the European Parliament — send a clear signal that the pro-EU establishment has no intention of slowing its relentless march toward a European superstate, a "United States of Europe," despite a surge of anti-EU sentiment across the continent.
Following are brief profiles of the nominees for the top four positions in the next European Commission, which begins on November 1, 2019 for a period of five years.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, the daughter of a prominent EU official, has been nominated to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as the next president of the European Commission, the powerful bureaucratic arm of the European Union. Von der Leyen, of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was a compromise choice after the candidacy of Manfred Weber, a favorite of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was rejected by critics, led by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron had favored the candidacy of European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, a Dutch Social Democrat. Timmermans, however, was rejected by the Visegrád Group — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia — due to his frequent criticism of their stance against mass migration and judicial reforms.
Von der Leyen has called for the creation of a European superstate. "My aim is the United States of Europe — on the model of federal states such as Switzerland, Germany or the U.S.," she said in an interview with Der Spiegel. She has also called for the creation of a European Army.
At the same time, however, von der Leyen has been roundly criticized at home and abroad for her performance as German defense minister. During her tenure, Germany's military has deteriorated due to budget cuts and poor management, according to Parliamentary Armed Forces Commissioner Hans-Peter Bartels.
"The Bundeswehr's condition is catastrophic," wrote Rupert Scholz, who served as defense minister under Chancellor Helmut Kohl, days before von der Leyen was nominated to the EU's top post. "The entire defense capability of the Federal Republic is suffering, which is totally irresponsible."
Writing for the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Stefan Ulrich opined that von der Leyen is an "unsuitable" choice:
"Von der Leyen is unsuitable because after six years as defense minister the Bundeswehr is still in such a deplorable state. She should have resigned a long time ago. As President of the European Commission, she will be overwhelmed."
In March 2016, von der Leyen was cleared of allegations of plagiarism in her doctoral thesis. In September 2015, the newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that plagiarized material had been found on 27 pages of her 62-page dissertation. The president of the Hanover Medical School, Christopher Baum, said that although von der Leyen's thesis did contain plagiarized material, the school decided against revoking her title because there had been no intent to deceive. "It's about mistake, not misconduct," he said.
Von der Leyen is currently being investigated by the Berlin Public Prosecutor's Office for nepotism in connection with the allocation of contracts worth hundreds of millions of euros to outside consultants. One such firm is McKinsey & Company, where her son David works as an associate.
Former European Parliament President Martin Schulz tweeted: "Von der Leyen is our weakest minister. That's apparently enough to become Commission president."
A Deutschlandtrend survey published on July 4 found that 56% of Germans believe that von der Leyen is not a good choice to lead the European Commission; 33% said that she is a good choice.
The European Parliament will vote on her nomination in Strasbourg on July 16. If approved, she will take over from Jean-Claude Juncker on November 1.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, the son of a prominent EU official, has been nominated to succeed Poland's Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. The European Council defines the EU's overall political direction and priorities. The members of the European Council are the heads of state or government of the 28 EU member states, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission.
Michel became Belgium's youngest prime minister in 2014 at the age of 38. In December 2018, he resigned after losing a no-confidence motion over his support for the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. It proclaimed basic rights for migrants, but critics said it would blur the line between legal and illegal immigration. He now heads a caretaker government after an inconclusive general election in May 2019.
Michel has said that Eastern European countries opposed to burden-sharing on migration should lose some of their EU rights. "The European Union is not only an ATM when you need support," he said. "Cooperation means solidarity and responsibility."
Michel is a strong proponent of the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He has criticized the Trump administration for withdrawing from the agreement: "No #IranDeal means more instability or war in the Middle East. I deeply regret the withdrawal by @realDonaldTrump from #JCPOA. EU & its international partners must remain committed and Iran must continue to fulfil its obligations."
Michel has also condemned the Trump administration's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. "We know that tensions in Israel and Palestine are feeding a form of hatred and violence that is felt everywhere in the world. That's why we have unequivocally condemned Donald Trump's statement. It was oil on fire, we do not need it."
Josep Borrell, EU Foreign Policy Chief
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell has been nominated to replace Federica Mogherini as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Like Mogherini, Borrell is a well-known supporter of the mullahs in Iran and is likely to clash with the United States and Israel over the nuclear deal with Tehran.
In a February 19 interview with Politico, Borrell, a Socialist, declared that Israel would have to live with the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb:
"The Americans decided to kill [the Iran nuclear deal], unilaterally as they do things without any kind of previous consultation, without taking care of what interests the Europeans have. We are not children following what they say. We have our own prospects, interests and strategy and we will continue working with Iran. It would be very bad for us if it goes on to develop a nuclear weapon.... Iran wants to wipe out Israel; nothing new about that. You have to live with it."
On February 11, Borrell marked the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution by praising the achievements made by women in the country since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini swept to power in 1979. The rights and status of Iranian women have, in fact, been severely restricted since the Islamic Revolution. In a Twitter thread, Borrell also encouraged the Iranian regime to wait out American sanctions in case U.S. President Donald J. Trump is not reelected in 2020.
In May 2019, Spain withdrew a warship, the frigate Méndez Núñez, from the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, because of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Also in May 2019, Borrell accused the United States of acting "like a western cowboy" after the Trump administration recognized the president of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as interim president of the country. Borrell said that Spain "will continue to reject pressures that border on military interventions" to remove from power Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. The Spanish Socialist Party has a long history of promoting the Marxist revolutionaries led by Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.
In November 2018, Borrell explained why the United States is more politically integrated than the European Union: "The United States has very little previous history. They were born to independence with practically no history; the only thing they had done was to kill four Indians." He later apologized for the "excessively colloquial manner" in which he downplayed the "quasi annihilation" of Native Americans. Borrell made no mention of the destruction of the native populations of Central and South America at the hands of Spanish conquerors.
Borrell has said that "Europe needs a new leitmotiv" and that the fight against climate change "should be one of the great engines of Europe's rebirth."
Borrell has also stated that he hopes Britain will leave the EU because it is an impediment to the creation of a European superstate:
"I belong to the school which believes that with the UK in the EU we will never have a political union. Personally, because I do want a political union, I don't care whether the United Kingdom leaves because I know that to date, it has been an obstacle to further integration."
In April 2012, Borrell was forced to resign as president of the European University Institute (EUI) due to a conflict of interest after it emerged that he was simultaneously being paid €300,000 a year as a board member of the Spanish sustainable-energy company Abengoa.
In October 2016, Borrell was fined €30,000 ($34,000) by the National Securities Market Commission (CNMV) for insider trading after selling 10,000 shares in Abengoa in November 2015.
Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank
Christine Lagarde, a former French finance minister the current managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has been nominated to succeed Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Bank (ECB). Lagarde's nomination has received mixed reviews. As the head of the IMF, she brings strong credentials in leadership, management and communications. She is, however, a lawyer, not an economist, and she has no experience in monetary policy.
During an interview with the Daily Show, Lagarde said that President Donald Trump "has a point" in his trade war with China:
"President Trump has a point on intellectual property. It is correct that nobody should be stealing intellectual property to move ahead. He has a point on subsidies, you cannot just go about competing with others out there that are heavily subsidized. On these points clearly, the game has to change, the rules have to be respected."
Financial reporter Bjarke Smith-Meyer noted that Lagarde's nomination came as something of a surprise and "pushes the European Central Bank toward an area it's tried to avoid in its 21-year history: politics."
Paul Taylor, a columnist for Politico, added:
"Central banking is rocket science. If you don't get it right, the consequences can be tragic.
"That's why EU leaders are taking a huge gamble in their decision to entrust the leadership of the European Central Bank to Christine Lagarde, a political rock star with no economic training and no practical experience of monetary policy.
"At a time when the ECB is running low on options for jolting the economy, Lagarde may have the acumen and authority needed to persuade reluctant, conservative Germany and the Netherlands of the urgent need to provide more fiscal stimulus....
"But by nominating the former French minister to succeed Italy's Mario Draghi — the bold president of the bank who rescued the European economy in 2012 with a promise to do 'whatever it takes to preserve the euro' — the EU's leaders have effectively decided that they don't need a central banker to run their central bank....
"The surprise choice of Lagarde, 64, was part of a Franco-German trade-off under which conservative German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, 60, was nominated to head the European Commission, breaking a political deadlock in which all the original candidates fell by the wayside....
"The main reason why Lagarde got the nod, instead of the experienced French central bank chief François Villeroy de Galhau, appeared to be gender.
"For the first time, the sensitive choice of ECB chief was the adjustment variable in political horse-trading over other top EU jobs — even though the bank is meant to be strictly independent of politics."
In December 2016, France's Court of Justice of the Republic found Lagarde guilty of negligence for not seeking to block a fraudulent 2008 arbitration award to a politically connected tycoon when she was finance minister. The court ruled that Lagarde's negligence in her management of a long-running arbitration case involving tycoon Bernard Tapie helped open the door for the fraudulent misappropriation of €403 million ($450 million) of public funds in a settlement given to Tapie in 2008 over the botched sale of sportswear giant Adidas in the 1990s.
Reflections on European "Democracy"
Writing for The Telegraph, columnist Allister Heath, in an essay titled, "The EU is a Sham Democracy," noted:
"Thank you, Eurocrats, for being yourselves. The best cure for Europhilia is always to observe the EU's big beasts at their unguarded worst, wheeling and dealing in their natural habitat, unencumbered by any attachment to democracy, accountability or even basic morality.
"The spectacle of the past few days made for compulsive watching: we witnessed rare footage of the secretive process that propels so many retreads and second-rate apparatchiks into positions of immense power in Brussels and Frankfurt, utterly disregarding public opinion.
"Peeking into Europe's dystopia was certainly the right medicine for pre-Brexit Britain, guaranteed to convert erstwhile moderates into raging Brexiteers as they looked on, aghast, at the shocking disconnect between elites and people.
"Everything that is wrong with the EU was shamelessly on display: a Franco-German stitch-up; smaller countries being bulldozed, especially Eastern Europeans; a constitutional coup which sidelined the (useless) European Parliament; the fact that so many of the new generation of EU leaders have had brushes with the law that would have terminated their careers in the US or UK; their explicit commitment to a 'United States of Europe' and a 'European army' (about which we keep being lied to); and the singing of a national anthem we were promised wouldn't exist when the European constitution was voted down....
"While the EU apes some of the rituals of democracy, they are a sinister sham, and will always be. The EU is a technocratic empire, and can be nothing else."
Writing for the European media platform, Euractiv, Jorge Valero lamented:
"After five summit days and hundreds of hours of phone calls, meetings and backroom chats, the EU conclave agreed on its new leadership. But the 'white smoke' that emerged from the Council building preludes storm clouds for the nominees and the European demos.
"Few winners came out of the distribution of the top posts sealed on July 2, and the European democracy was hardly one of them.
"Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, Josep Borrell, and Christine Lagarde have good reasons to pop the champagne and toast their unexpected elevation to Commission president, European Council chair, High Representative and ECB chief, respectively.
"But it was a high price to pay for the badly needed gender balance....
"The fresh leadership will stand in the shadow of old scandals, legal cases and malpractice. Lagarde was found guilty of negligence in the Bernard Tapie scandal. Borrell was sanctioned by the Spanish market authority for using insider information in the sale of some shares.
"The German parliament launched an investigation into von der Leyen for nepotism and irregularities in allocating expensive contracts. And Michel's career would hardly be the same if his father hadn't been a Belgian minister and EU Commissioner."
The British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannon, in a tweet, summarized: "Can anyone look at the people who will be running the EU for the next five years and then try to claim that the high tide of federalism has passed?"