Ursula von der Leyen, nominee to head European Union, 'hopes United Kingdom abandons Brexit'

  • Ursula von der Leyen, nominee to head European Union, 'hopes United Kingdom abandons Brexit'

Ursula von der Leyen, nominee to head European Union, 'hopes United Kingdom abandons Brexit'

Ms Von der Leyen, nominated by EU national leaders last week to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker on 1 November, the day after Britain is due to leave, was wooing MEPs ahead of a confirmation vote in the European Parliament next week.

In a swipe at Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, she reminded them: "Brexit is not the end of something, Brexit is the beginning of future relations and it's of absolute importance that we have good cooperation".

Von der Leyen said the Withdrawal agreement of Prime Minister Theresa May that was rejected by British lawmakers was a good one, signalling that under her leadership the European Commission will be no more willing to renegotiate than before.

Should she succeed, von der Leyen said she wanted a gender balance at the Commission and that Dutch Socialist Frans Timmermans would be her first deputy along with Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager, now the EU's competition chief.

If this happens, she will become the first woman to take the EU's top post.

She clarified her views on European defence, restating that national parliaments should continue to have the final say on sending men and women into unsafe situations.

"Though I still hope you remain, it is in our interests to have you sort things out. We absolutely know how crucial this non-existing of a border for you is, and therefore having the backstop in the Brexit deal is", she said in response to a question from an Irish MEP.

In her first public comments about Brexit since securing the nomination, she told British MEPs that she still hoped the United Kingdom would reverse course, but urged Britain to provide clarity for the future: "it is in our interests to have you sort things out".

What else did she pitch?

She vowed to put progressive climate policy at the heart of her five-year term, and voiced her backing for the European Union going carbon neutral by 2050.

"We've said we want you in..."

She announced plans to fill EU commissioner posts with equal numbers of men and women and said she would ask European leaders to give her two candidate names - one male, one female - for each post.

Von der Leyen, a 60-year-old former gynecologist and mother of seven, switched between English, French and German as she spoke in favor of enlarging the euro zone and the EU's open-border Schengen area, provided countries meet the criteria.

The EU, weakened by the 2009-2012 euro zone crisis, Britain's decision to quit the bloc and the rise of far-right and far-left eurosceptic parties, needs a strong Commission president to improve its fortunes, officials and experts say.

Although it is expected Von der Leyen will be approved by the European parliament, she still faced sniping over the process of her appointment whereby she leapfrogged politicians who had declared bids to lead the commission before European elections.