New EU chief makes first trip to Brussels

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union’s (EU) new President-elect Ursula von der Leyen yesterday made her first trip to Brussels since being nominated, as senior officials sought to shore up support for her appointment in the European Parliament.

Current German Defence Minister von der Leyen met Jean-Claude Juncker, the man she is to replace as European Commission President, for talks a day after pledging to present her “vision for the next five years for Europe” within a fortnight.

She must win the approval of the highly fragmented European Parliament, where there have been grumblings about the deal to appoint her, which was cooked up by EU national leaders over three days of tortuous summit wrangling.

Juncker and von der Leyen – the first woman to be named to the head of the EU’s executive arm – embraced warmly for the cameras as they met at commission headquarters in Brussels, but neither made any comment.

Juncker, whose five-year term has been marked by Brexit and the migrant crisis – two of the biggest upheavals ever to hit the EU – tweeted later that he was “delighted” to receive von der Leyen.

Outgoing President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker meets with German Defence Minister and newly-appointed European Union Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels. – AFP

“A true European, we are on the same page when it comes to speaking up for EU interests,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council of member states, appeared before members of European Parliaments (MEPs) at the Parliament in Strasbourg to urge them to unite and support von der Leyen.

“We must respect each other and cooperate with each other, because only then can we build trust and change Europe for the better,” Tusk told the Parliament, sitting this week in Strasbourg, France.

Tusk – who led the summit talks that eventually installed von der Leyen – would meet the 60-year-old, who has served in the German Cabinet since 2005, for separate talks yesterday afternoon.

Von der Leyen wasted no time in her campaign to court MEPs, travelling to Strasbourg on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after winning the leaders’ nod, for talks with her centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) bloc.