Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman ever selected to lead the European Commission, put forward her slate of nominees Tuesday with historic, near-perfect gender balance, and portfolio assignments designed to tackle urgent policy challenges.
The posts include an executive vice president focused on climate change; a commissioner tasked with overseeing a new department for defense industry and space; and vice presidents focused on values, democracy, and the “European Way of Life.”
Von der Leyen’s nominees, who need confirmation by the European Parliament in coming weeks to take office, include 12 women and 14 men — a leap forward from the current Commission, which has eight women, and a seismic shift for the EU’s executive body, which from 1985 to 1988 had no women at all.
In addition to von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, in the top job, women in the next Commission will hold many of the most powerful posts and prominent portfolios, including Margrethe Vestager of Denmark as executive vice president charged with making “Europe fit for the digital age.”
By proposing eight vice presidents, von der Leyen will face questions about whether she has created a College with too many bosses.
Vestager will also retain her current position as competition commissioner, continuing a role overseeing the EU’s anti-trust regulations that brought her to global prominence and even drew criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump, who derisively referred to her as the “tax lady.”
Other prominent women include Věra Jourová, of the Czech Republic, who will be vice president for values and transparency; Sylvie Goulard a former French defense minister, as commissioner for the internal market and also overseeing a new directorate-general for defense industry and space; Dubravka Šuica, a former mayor of Dobrovnik in Croatia, as vice president for democracy and demography; and Kadri Simson, of Estonia, as energy commissioner.
The selection of Jourová, representing one of the Visegrad Four nations of Central and Eastern Europe, carries special significance given still-simmering tensions between Brussels and two of the V4, Poland and Hungary, which have been accused of undermining core EU principles on rule of law and democracy.
Among the men, Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands, who was the center-left candidate for Commission president, will be executive vice president for the “European Green Deal,” essentially retaining the senior executive position he currently holds in Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission.
And Valdis Dombrovskis, a former prime minister of Latvia and current Commission vice president, will be executive vice president for economic and financial affairs. Former Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni will be commissioner for economy.
Josep Borrell, currently the Spanish foreign minister, will be high representative for foreign affairs — a decision that was made by the heads of state and government on the European Council at the same time they chose von der Leyen for the presidency.
Von der Leyen’s proposed College of Commissioners effectively scrambles positions and portfolios to focus far more on policy themes than on mirroring the Commission’s departments (known as directorate-generals).
“We have a structure that focuses on tasks, not hierarchies,” von der Leyen said at a news conference at the Commission headquarters. “We need to be able to deliver on the issues that matter the most, rapidly and with determination.”
“I want this European Commission to be a flexible, modern, agile Commission,” she said, at another point calling it a “geopolitical Commission” and a “guardian of multilateralism.”
But by proposing eight vice presidents, including three executive vice presidents, von der Leyen will undoubtedly face questions about whether she has created a College with too many bosses.
Of all the creative and unusual titles that von der Leyen proposed, perhaps the most intriguing was that of vice president for “protecting our European way of life” assigned to Margaritis Schinas, the Greek nominee and former chief spokesman for the Juncker Commission.
Von der Leyen explained that Schinas would be in charge of migration — which includes one of the EU’s most intractable policy disputes, over how to revise the bloc’s asylum rules.
Follow POLITICO’s live blog for the latest on the unveiling of the new Commission.