MEPs back Leyen as first female president of European Commission

Ursula von der Leyen has been approved as the first female president of the European Commission by MEPs.

Germany's Ursula von der Leyen with European Council President Donald Tusk. Picture: AP
Germany's Ursula von der Leyen with European Council President Donald Tusk. Picture: AP

The German defence minister was confirmed in the role by a European Parliament vote of 383-327, with 22 abstentions.

The move required an absolute majority under EU rules.

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She was nominated by EU leaders to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as part of an overall appointments deal between nations, but still needed the backing of MEPs.

Ms von der Leyen was a last-minute candidate and many legislators were angry none of their lead candidates were selected for the top job. The secret ballot announcement came after Ms von der Leyen had clashed with Nigel Farage in the European Parliament as she said she would allow another Brexit extension beyond October 31 if there were good reasons. The in-coming commission president said she respected but regretted the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

She said: “We cannot talk about Europe without talking about our friends from the UK. For the very first time, in 2016 a member state decided to leave the EU.

“This is a serious decision, we regret it but we respect it. Since then, together with the current government of the UK, the EU has worked hard to organise the orderly departure of the UK.”

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with Theresa May’s administration by Michel Barnier “provides certainty where Brexit created uncertainty”, she said.

“However, I stand ready for a further extension of the withdrawal date should more time be required for a good reason.”

Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson has insisted he will not shift from the October 31 deadline but his rival Jeremy Hunt has indicated he would be flexible if a deal was within reach.

Mr Farage said the European Parliament had been “humbled and humiliated” by the process which led to Ms von der Leyen’s nomination by the European Council.