Von der Leyen, Costa, Kallas endorsed for the EU’s top jobs. Here’s who they are and what they do

Von der Leyen, Costa, Kallas endorsed for the EU’s top jobs. Here’s who they are and what they do

Following the elections for EU Parliament, European Union leaders have agreed on the officials who will hold the key positions in the world’s biggest trading bloc in the coming years for issues ranging from antitrust investigations to foreign policy.

The three nominees will lead the EU’s powerful executive branch – the European Commission – and the forum where the 27 member countries are represented, the European Council, with the final nominee being the bloc’s top diplomat.

The Associated Press takes a look at who they are, and what they do.

Ursula von der Leyen

The 65-year-old German politician has been endorsed for a second term as president of the powerful European Commission. Her bid was boosted when the center-right European People’s Party, which includes von der Leyen’s Christian Democratic Union, remained the largest group at the EU Parliament.

Von der Leyen has been praised for her leading role during the COVID-19 crisis, when the EU bought vaccines collectively for its citizens. But she also found herself receiving sharp criticism for the opacity of the negotiations with vaccine makers.

Von der Leyen has also embodied the EU’s plans to become climate neutral by 2050, but her commitment to the Green Deal policies has been questioned in the buildup to the European elections as the EU seemed cautious not to antagonize farmers who argued that EU environmental and climate laws were driving them toward bankruptcy.

Under the EU treaties, the head of the European Commission sets the EU executive arm’s policy agenda, represents the commission in European Council meetings, G7 and G20 summits, summits with non-EU countries and major debates in the European Parliament and the Council. The European Commission leads trade negotiations and polices competition.

Von der Leyen’s second term now needs to be approved by European lawmakers in a vote likely to take place in July. In 2019, von der Leyen won a narrow majority (383 votes in favor, 327 against, 22 abstentions) to become the first woman to head the institution.

Antonio Costa

The former prime minister of Portugal is replacing Charles Michel as Council president. The 62-year-old socialist has been chosen for a 2 1/2 year term, which is renewable once.

The Socialists came in second place in the EU elections and the result has helped his case, although he had been considered for the position for months. Costa’s choice was controversial because of his government’s involvement in a widespread corruption investigation that forced him to resign as prime minister last year. Costa denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.

The European Council brings together the EU member states. Its president is responsible for chairing summits and finding consensus within the European Council.

Known as a crafty political negotiator, Costa will also represent the EU at international summits alongside Von der Leyen. His predecessor, Michel, had a tense relationship with the head of the commission.

Kaja Kallas

The Estonian prime minister is a staunch supporter of Ukraine. With her nomination as the EU’s top diplomat, she will be holding the highest EU position ever awarded to an Estonian. She was chosen as a successor for Josep Borrell despite the liberal group she belongs to losing ground in the European elections, slipping to fourth place behind the far-right ECR.

Like von der Leyen, Kallas must also be confirmed by the EU Parliament.

Kallas, a 47-year-old lawyer, has been one of the most vocal European backers of Ukraine and a fierce critic of Russia within the European Union and NATO. Among other things, she has pressed NATO to provide a more thorough defense plan for the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – that border Russia.

Kallas, who has led the small Baltic nation bordering Russia as its first female head of government since January 2021, was at some point interested in becoming the next secretary general of NATO. The outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will hold that position.


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