European Parliament Elects New European Commission President

On 16 July, the European Parliament voted to confirm the candidature of Ursula von der Leyen as President-elect of the European Commission. She will assume office on 1 November 2019 and will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker. Von der Leyen is the first woman President of the Commission and also the first German to hold the office in over 50 years.

Her appointment comes as the European Union prepares to change all of its principal leaders for the coming five years. Charles Michel (formerly Prime Minister of Belgium) will succeed Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. Christine Lagarde (formerly of the IMF) will lead the European Central Bank and Josep Borrell Fontelles from Spain becomes EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. For the first time ever, the senior positions of the European Union will be gender balanced.

Von der Leyen’s mandate starts from a challenging position. She was not initially a candidate, and emerged following lengthy negotiations between the member states and senior European Parliamentarians. In the run up to her confirmation, she was forced to make a number of concessions to different political groups to secure support, but even then, only secured a majority of nine. It remains to be seen if she will enjoy a stable majority in the European Parliament for her policies, and also if the departure of UK MEPs (as expected post-Brexit) will improve or worsen her position. The confirmation vote was by secret ballot, so there is little clear information about exactly who voted for her.

Von der Leyen will take office the day after the UK is expected to leave the EU. She has indicated both that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be changed, but that she would be willing to consider a further extension of the Article 50 process, if the UK could show a good reason. The European Commission’s Brexit team is in a state of flux. Michel Barnier remains in position as chief negotiator, but his deputy, Sabine Weyand, has been appointed Director General for Trade. Once the UK has appointed its new Prime Minister in the week beginning 22 July, there will be a little over three months for negotiations to lead to anything other than a No Deal Brexit on 31 October 2019.

For further information contact Andrew Large on 01793 889601 or email