Opportunities and challenges: Maintaining European unity

Opportunities and challenges: Maintaining European unity

The changing of the guard at the European Commission and the European Council offers new opportunities as well as challenges for the EU.

Ursula von der Leyen becomes the first woman to hold the EU’s top job as president of the European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — which officially began its new five-year term yesterday.

Succeeding Jean-Claude Juncker, she has already declared that climate change will be at the top of her agenda, as she views it as an existential threat.

At the same time, Charles Michel, the new head of the European Council who takes over from Donald Tusk, has promised that Europe will become more “assertive” on the world stage.

Ireland’s commissioner is Phil Hogan who moves from the agriculture portfolio to trade, a key position, particularly in post-Brexit trade talks.

Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk can share much of the credit for maintaining European unity over the past five years, weathering Brexit, a migration crisis, attacks by jihadists in several EU states, and financial tribulations.

Mr Hogan can also take a bow, having performed very well as agriculture commissioner.

Of the 27 new commissioners, 12 are women, making this the most gender-balanced European Commission to date.

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