On Tuesday, the European Council following several rounds of negotiations finally came to an agreement and nominated German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen for the post of European Commission president. Candidates for European External Action Service chief (Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell), European Council president (Prime Minister of Belgium Charles Michel) and European Central Bank president (IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde) were nominated as well.
The leading candidate from the European People's Party, Manfred Weber, who according to the procedure established in the EU, was to head the European Commission, quite predictably had been left behind: his candidature suited almost no one in the EU. This actually means the EU refusal from the very system of leading party candidates at the European Parliament elections, at least, in the form it had previously existed.
All nominations, and it is so characteristic of the Brussels decision-making process, were a result of a complicated compromise that was called to bring together different national, political, party and other interests and preferences.
Advocates of gender equality, and there is a majority of them among European politicians, should be happy to see two women among the candidates. France that in fact had initiated this lengthy dispute about the key posts won the position of European Central Bank president for its candidate. The European People's Party and Germany's CDU/CSU, which failed to defend Weber, got the post of European Commission president, Social Democrats won the post of European External Action Service chief, while Liberals secured the post of European Council president. Moreover, Timmermans and Vestager should take the positions of European Commission vice-presidents.
EU's eastern countries that late last week had spoken against all three leading candidates and said that they would like to see a politician who would understand their interests as European Commission president also seem to have been quite satisfied with the decision and the candidature of von der Leyen. She isn't excessively liberal, she hasn't sought opening borders to migrant flows, moreover, she really shows the understanding of Eastern Europeans, at least as far as defense is concerned. And it's no coincidence that congratulating von der Leyen on the nomination, Linas Linkevicius called he a "big friend of Latvia," where the German troops are stationed as part of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence.
Making another curtsey in the eastern direction, the European Council signaled that it would like to see former Prime Minister of Bulgaria Sergei Stanishev as European Commission president. However, the leaders of EU member states could just voice their opinion in this regard: this issue is solely in the competence of parliamentarians.
The European Parliament should also approve all four nominations of the European Council. There is almost no doubt that the decision will be positive. The so hardly achieved compromise suits everyone but Germany's Social Democrats. They unambiguously opposed von der Leyen, and for that reason Merkel, who represents in the European Parliament not only her bloc, CDU/CSU, but also the Social Democratic Party, which forms the German government, abstained when the candidature of German minister of defense was voted on.
However, having shown a very poor result at the European Parliament elections, the Social Democratic Party ceded the leadership in the united faction of European Social Democrats to Spain, which is likely to be satisfied with their leader, Josep Borrell, becoming Federica Mogherini's successor and seem to not be going to continue the dispute about the key posts.
This means that the nomination of von der Leyen to the new post has almost been decided on, and consequently one could expect that the defense policy, which plays an important role for Brussels even now, will get a higher priority in the new future.
The German minister shares the idea of federalizing the EU and is a consistent advocate of European defense integration, and the activity, which has lately been seen in this area, is to a large extent von der Leyen's achievement. The EU's Permanent Structured Cooperation, the promotion of "framework nations" within NATO, the integration of the armed forces of European countries with the German Armed Forces – she took the most active part in all these processes.
It's unlikely that von der Leyen will give up an opportunity of using the powers of European Commission president to continue her undertakings. Moreover, the EU needs progress in the sphere of foreign and defense policies for quite objective reasons: it won't be able to survive amidst the significantly escalated international situation.
It shouldn't be expected that the development of the EU defense integration will lead to the emancipation from the USA. At least, it's unlikely to happen in the next four years. Von der Leyen not only shares the ideas of European federalism, but combines them with the ideas of Euro-Atlanticism, while the formation of the EU armed force, from her point of view, should serve first of all the purpose of strengthening NATO. Jens Stoltenberg has already expressed hope that after von der Leyen gets the new post, he would be able to continue working with her on enhancing partnership between the EU and NATO.