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Ursula von der Leyen says her new cabinet of EU Commissioners will be half women

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Ursula von der Leyen says her new cabinet of EU Commissioners will be half women 2

Ursula von der Leyen says her new cabinet of EU Commissioners will be half women 3

The nominee to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president has said her administration will be made up of half women and half men.

Ursula von der Leyen has asked EU member states to nominate two people, a man and woman, as their candidates to be their EU Commissioners to ensure the posts can be divided up equally between genders.

The Commission president leads a college of Commissioners drawn from the 28 member states – effectively a cabinet government for the EU’s executive. The Commission is responsible for proposing new EU laws, which have to be scrutinised by the parliament and council.   

Each member state gets one Commissioner, who is allocated a portfolio by the president such as agriculture, security, or finance. The Commissioners however do not report to member states and are bound to act in the interests of the union as a whole.

“I want a Commission with half male and half female commissioners,” von der Leyen said during a meeting in Brussels with MEPs.

Ms von der Leyen will be the first woman president of the Commission if she is confirmed by MEPs in a vote scheduled for Tuesday in the European Parliament. The parliament must also sign off the team of commissioners following a process of security.

The current Commission cabinet, which is referred to as the college of commissioners, has 19 male commissioners and just nine female Commissioners. 

In 2014 when Mr Juncker formed his college he asked member states to propose women candidates to achieve gender balance, but was unsuccessful. Ms von der Leyen’s new approach of requiring two nominations from each member state – of which one will be picked – is an attempt to get around the problems faced last time.

The question of who member states nominate to be their commissioner is often fraught with domestic politics, which would have shaped the commissioners which the countries put forward.

During her time as Germany’s federal minister responsible for women’s quality the president-nominate unsuccessfully pushed for binding quotas for women on company supervisory boards.

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Ann Widdecombe: Fury as MEP compares Brexit to ‘slaves rising up against their owners’

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Ann Widdecombe: Fury as MEP compares Brexit to ‘slaves rising up against their owners’ 5

Ann Widdecombe: Fury as MEP compares Brexit to ‘slaves rising up against their owners’ 6

Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe has attracted ridicule after she compared Britain’s departure from the European Union to slaves rising up against their owners.

The former Tory shadow home secretary claimed Britain was “oppressed” and, apparently without irony, likened Brexit to a colony rising up against an occupying empire.

“There is a pattern consistent throughout history of oppressed people turning on the oppressors: slaves against their owners, the peasantry against their feudal barons – colonies, Mr Verhofstadt, against their empires. That is why Britain is leaving,” she told MEPs in her maiden speech in Strasbourg on Thursday. “It doesn’t matter which language you use, we are going, and we are glad to be going.”

Ms Widdecombe, who represents South West England, said it was “a great honour to speak on behalf of the largest single party” in the European parliament – a reference to the Brexit Party’s victory at the EU elections.

MPs and other MEPs criticised the Brexiteer’s comments. Labour MP David Lammy said: “It is impossible to explain how offensive and ahistorical it is for you to equate my ancestors tearing off their chains with your small-minded nationalist project. Shame on you.”

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said: “Nigel Farage is facing some stiff competition as chief clown of the Brexit Party in the European parliament. By the way, when Widdecombe talks about ‘colonies liberating themselves from their empires’, is she really referring to the American Revolution of 1776?”

Green MEP Alexandra Phillips said: “Is she drunk? This is beyond embarrassing. It’s this type of behaviour which makes me ashamed to be a British MEP right now.”

Martin Horwood, a Liberal Democrat, suggested the former Tory MP had a waning grip on reality and had embarrassed Britain. “To imply that the United Kingdom is any way in a similar situation to the colonies of our former empire or a victim of slavery is deeply offensive. Widdecombe’s comments trivialise the suffering of those who have experienced slavery and colonialism,” he told The Independent after the speech.

“If Ann Widdecombe had any grip on reality, she would have the sense to look at her own record on oppressing women and minorities when she defended shackling pregnant women and opposed repealing Section 28. Anne Widdecombe has not only embarrassed herself but she has embarrassed the nation she represents. I hope she withdraws her comments and sincerely apologises to all those she has offended immediately.”

Brexit Party MEPs caused a storm earlier this week when they turned their backs on the EU anthem in protest during the parliament’s opening ceremony.

Responding to Ms Widdecombe’s comments, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “I haven’t spoken to the prime minister about it, but I think it is safe to say that that isn’t a characterisation that she would recognise. Nor is it a phrase she would ever use to describe leaving the EU.”

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‘This is not the Europe I imagined’: Head of largest EU Parliament group condemns lack of democracy after leaders ignore election results

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'This is not the Europe I imagined': Head of largest EU Parliament group condemns lack of democracy after leaders ignore election results 8

'This is not the Europe I imagined': Head of largest EU Parliament group condemns lack of democracy after leaders ignore election results 9

EU leaders are “damaging democracy” by ignoring the results of the European parliament elections, the leader of the legislature’s largest party has said.

Manfred Weber, whose centre-right group won last month’s contest, said the decision by leaders to reject all the candidates for European Commission president and instead pick a little-known ally of Angela Merkel in a closed meeting was “not the Europe I imagined”.

It comes as a poll by German broadcaster ARD found that the German public does not support the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen, the leaders’ pick for the top job. More than half (56 per cent) said they did not agree with the decision. Another recent poll in Der Spiegel magazine found she was the second most unpopular cabinet minister in Germany.

“Suddenly we see that Macron and Orban are working together and damaging the democratic principles of Europe,” Mr Weber, who was the lead candidate for the winning European People’s Party, said on Friday morning.

“I can honestly say that this is not the Europe I imagined. I will continue to fight for the democratisation of the EU.”

Speaking on Friday morning Jean-Claude Juncker, who Ms Von der Leyen is set to replace, said the process for appointing his successor was “not very transparent”.

“I was the first and the last spitzenkandidat,” he said, referring to the system of parties picking lead candidates for the job ahead of the election. “Unfortunately it did not become a tradition.”

Mr Weber’s candidacy was opposed by both Emmanuel Macron, the centrist French president, and Viktor Orban, the far-right leader of Hungary. Mr Orban also blocked another lead candidate, Frans Timmermans of the socialist group. 

As negotiations came to a close earlier this week, a spokesperson for Mr Orban said: “In our unity, the Visegrád Four [central and eastern European countries with populist governments] have again demonstrated our growing strength and influence over the direction of EU. 

Ursula von der Leyen is set to be new Commission president (Reuters)

“After defeating Weber, the V4 prime ministers have toppled Timmermans as well. As negotiations continue we have put on the EU table a package that is winning acceptance among a growing number of member countries: the Visegrád Four support German minister of defence Ursula von der Leyen as the next EU Commission president.”

While the nomination for Ms Von der Leyen by the Council requires European parliament approval, MEPs are not expected to block her, in part to avoid a showdown between EU institutions. 

In a sitting at the parliament on Thursday, the body’s different political groups from across the spectrum lined up to criticise the process as an undemocratic carve-up.

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