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17 Feb, 2024 20:55

Von der Leyen proposes EU ‘defense commissioner’

The European Commission president suggested that an Eastern European could fill the role
Von der Leyen proposes EU ‘defense commissioner’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will appoint a dedicated “defense commissioner” if she retains her post after EU elections in June, she said on Saturday. The precise duties of the role are unclear.

“If I would be the president of the next European Commission, I would have a commissioner for defense,” von der Leyen said at the Munich Security Conference. Creating such a post would be a “reasonable” decision, she added. 

Von der Leyen and her 27 commissioners are not directly elected by European voters. Instead, a president of the commission is nominated by the European Council and approved or rejected by the European Parliament. If confirmed, the president then selects 27 commissioners, usually one from each member state.

The next commission will be formed while Hungary – whose prime minister has an antagonistic relationship with von der Leyen – holds the council’s rotating presidency. While right wing parties are projected to surge in June’s parliamentary elections, von der Leyen’s centrist European People’s Party (EPP) will likely remain the largest faction in the 720-seat legislature. 

The EPP has backed the appointment of a defense commissioner. In a draft manifesto seen by Euractiv last month, the party stated that whoever takes the post should be in charge of ensuring the EU spends 0.5% of its shared budget on defense and directs an equal share to overhauling the bloc’s ailing arms industry.

Von der Leyen did not expand on these responsibilities, nor did she suggest whether a defense commissioner would have any input into the bloc’s overall military strategy, which was set out for the first time by the European Council in 2022. 

The commission president said that it is an “open” question as to which nationality would get the post. However, she added that it is “important” for an Eastern European to receive a good portfolio, and “this is a good portfolio.”

Earlier this week, an anonymous EU diplomat told Politico that Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas are leading candidates for the position. Both are vocal backers of Ukraine, with German media reporting on Saturday that Kallas reportedly missed out on a chance to replace Jens Stoltenberg as NATO’s secretary general due to her overly hawkish stance on Russia. 

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