Archive for the ‘Trade’ Category

UK ‘Ireland-specific’ Brexit plan meets Brussels skepticism

The U.K. presented a long-awaited plan to EU negotiators Wednesday on how to replace the controversial Northern Ireland backstop, but diplomats briefed on the Brexit talks say the proposals fall short of the reassurance that Dublin and Brussels need.

Under the proposal, presented in Brussels by Boris Johnson’s most senior EU adviser, David Frost, the backstop would be removed and replaced with “Ireland-specific” arrangements for checking goods away from the border, according to diplomats briefed on the talks.

In effect, London is offering a commitment to develop alternative custom procedures during the post-Brexit transition period, two EU officials said, although it is unclear if this will satisfy Brussels and Dublin. Leading figures on the EU side have repeated endlessly that they regard the Northern Ireland conundrum as something that must be settled before the U.K. leaves the bloc.

Even though it has been received with some skepticism, the offer marks a significant moment in the U.K. government’s evolving Brexit strategy. With other options such as an October snap general election and leaving with no-deal now seemingly closed off to Johnson, his EU negotiating team has come to Brussels with a more substantive position than before — albeit with what EU diplomats described as a vague verbal-only offer with little detail.

Alternative fixes to the Irish border — such as electronic pre-clearance, pre-border checks and trusted trader schemes — have been publicly discussed during past weeks, but Wednesday was the first time that Frost held a dedicated meeting with EU officials to discuss such customs plans, officials said.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Crucially, the new proposal would allow the U.K., including Northern Ireland, to leave the EU’s customs union. That would permit it to adopt different tariffs on goods if it wanted and to conclude its own trade deals — a key priority for Johnson.

The proposal comes in addition to the U.K.’s idea, shared last week, to create an all-Ireland zone for food regulations such as animal welfare, which would further reduce trade frictions for products from milk to beef that pass the Irish border on a daily basis.

EU spokesperson Mina Andreeva confirmed publicly on Thursday that the U.K. had made a new offer on Wednesday without giving any details. “The U.K. presented ideas in the area of customs and manufactured goods,” she said.

But Brussels reacted with skepticism to the British plans: “We still haven’t gotten any written proposals,” said an EU official, adding that what had been presented could not replace the legal guarantees provided by the backstop. They would also require the EU to trust that there would be enough time during a post-Brexit transition period to develop the ideas before the U.K. fully diverges from EU rules.

Another EU official cautioned the proposals were only “aspirational ideas” and stressed that the U.K. had been unable to explain how they should work in practice. The official said that the U.K. negotiators conceded that the plan would inevitably lead to more “non-compliance” with customs rules.

A similar warning came from the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier: “At this precise moment … we have no reason to be optimistic,” he told the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents on Thursday.

“We will see in the coming weeks whether the British are able to make concrete written proposals to us that are legally operational,” Barnier added.

Away from the border

To avoid lengthy customs checks at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which could jeopardize the Good Friday peace agreement, the U.K. plan proposes that authorities conduct checks of customs declarations and exported goods away from the border, two EU officials said.

Those checks would be done directly at the premises of the traders. Moreover, those procedures could be “simplified” for “trusted traders,” the officials said.

A U.K. government spokesperson said: “As the prime minister set out on Monday, there are ideas that we’re bringing forward to address the range of complexities involved with the Northern Ireland border.

“He spoke about two broad areas: facilitations, such as trusted trader schemes, and measures relating to what might need to be done on an all-island basis, such as agri-foods and an SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary measures] area,” the spokesperson continued.

“Under no circumstances,” the spokesperson added, “will we be imposing infrastructure or checks of any kind at the Northern Ireland border.”

Protesters against Brexit and the possible imposition of any hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland gather at the border between Derry and County Donegal | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

The plan resembles one that Jonathan Faull, a former senior British EU official, and legal academics put forward last month, which suggested creating a network of trade centers away from the border where goods would be checked and duties paid.

However, Sam Lowe, a trade expert with the Centre for European Reform think tank, warned that moving customs checks was not a magic solution. “You have to police businesses that don’t play by the rules. That’s still quite disruptive and risks to undermine the peace process and disrupt the all-Ireland economy,” he said.

In addition to the new customs plan and the previous proposal for an all-Ireland food zone, the U.K. side on Wednesday also proposed an “enhanced market surveillance regime” to the EU that should avoid regulatory divergences on industrial goods.

This regime would be based on an exchange of data; enhanced cooperation between surveillance authorities; and “severe penalties” for breaches, according to the two EU officials. However, they cautioned that there was skepticism on the EU side about whether it was possible to improve on current market surveillance mechanisms.

Renewed vigor

Despite the cool reception in Brussels, EU diplomats say they have noted a change in mood in recent days from U.K. interlocutors, something one diplomat put down to Johnson’s defeats in the House of Commons.

Downing Street’s strategy, which had apparently been predicated on an autumn general election, has been blown off-course by Johnson’s failure to win a two-thirds majority among MPs for an early national poll. With that option closed off, his government is putting more energy into negotiations to find a deal with the EU before October 31.

EU diplomats, though, are concerned that time is running out ahead of the European Council summit on October 17 and 18, by which time they say it will be too late for leaders to digest and decide on new proposals.

The EU will need time before the summit to formalize and coordinate its position among the 27 remaining member countries, the diplomat said: “He cannot just arrive [at the summit] with a card up his sleeve — this is not poker.”

Johnson will be hoping that EU leaders will be so keen to end the Brexit game by that point that they will look at any sensible hand he offers them.

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Ursula von der Leyen’s actual org chart

Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen introduced her proposed team of commissioners with an org chart featuring concentric circles and green and blue squares but little indication of who will actually be calling the shots on the most important policy issues.

POLITICO has done the president’s work for her, with this detailed look at who reports to whom and the true power structure of the new Commission. Click here to view a PDF.

UK to become ‘economic competitor’ after Brexit, Merkel warns

The U.K. will become “an economic competitor on our own doorstep” after Brexit, Angela Merkel said Wednesday, while stressing that she believes a no-deal exit could still be avoided.

The German chancellor’s warning during a parliamentary debate comes after several EU countries last week expressed concern that the U.K. could try to boost its economic advantage post Brexit by pursuing a strong deregulation push. France and other countries said they want to impose tariffs on Britain if the country weakens “its commitments to fair competition.”

“After the withdrawal of Britain, we will have an economic competitor at our own doorstep, even if we want to keep close economic, foreign and security cooperation and friendly relations,” Merkel told MPs.

During Wednesday’s debate, she also said she is “firmly convinced” that the EU and U.K. still have “every chance” to resolve Brexit “in an orderly way.”

“The German government will work toward making this possible until the very last day,” she said, but added: “We are prepared for a disorderly Brexit.”

EU’s trade pick is no fan of Brexit

With Irishman Phil Hogan being nominated as next trade commissioner, the stage has been set for yet another potential Brexit drama.

Known for his tough negotiating tactics and not mincing his words, Hogan has repeatedly warned of the negative consequences of a no-deal Brexit and lashed out against the British government’s handling of the negotiations, Prime Minister Boris Johnson in particular.

In his previous position as agriculture commissioner in Jean-Claude Juncker’s Cabinet, Hogan even had Juncker’s blessing to travel across the U.K. before the EU referendum to campaign against Brexit.

The stakes are higher now that Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has proposed the 1.95-meter tall Irishman as the bloc’s next trade chief — a position that will see him front and center of negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K. (Announcing her nomination today, von der Leyen dubbed him a “hard and fair negotiator,” a reputation he has earned in trade talks with Japan and the Mercosur countries.)

During a speech at the end of August, Hogan gave a taste of what’s to come. Slamming Johnson as an “unelected prime minister,” he also said Brussels will “not buckle” under any pressure the U.K. government is trying to assert on its red lines.

“It is a definite advantage to have an Irish person in charge of this crucial brief over the next five years.” — Leo Varadkar

Leaving the EU without a deal will create a “foul atmosphere” and have “serious consequences” on the prospects of a trade deal between London and Brussels, Hogan said bluntly.

European commissioners are meant to stay out of national affairs and focus on representing the EU’s interests as a whole. But Hogan has repeatedly flouted or ignored this rule.

Ireland’s particularly delicate position when it comes to Brexit will be served well by his continued interest and interference in national affairs. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, while congratulating Hogan on his new position today, said that although the new trade commissioner will work for the bloc as a whole, “it is a definite advantage to have an Irish person in charge of this crucial brief over the next five years.”

Varadkar had previously stated that the threat Brexit poses to Ireland was an important factor influencing his nod for Hogan.

One thing is certain: Britain should brace itself for Hogan’s hardball tactics in any future trade talks.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

UK offers Brexit mini-deals to side-step Brussels

The U.K. government is trying to bypass Brexit negotiations with the European Commission by proposing so-called mini deals to national capitals directly, diplomats say.

Many EU27 capitals have been approached by London with offers of deals or bilateral arrangements that would ameliorate the impact of a no-deal Brexit on both sides, according to two diplomats. The move has infuriated Commission officials, including EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who are concerned that a patchwork of partial deals could be more beneficial to the U.K. than the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May’s government last year.

A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Department for Exiting the EU said it is “untrue” the U.K. is trying to bypass talks with the Commission.

At a meeting of Brexit EU27 officials last week, almost “all delegations mentioned that they were being approached by the U.K. on several issues,” said one of the diplomats. These included topics such as data protection, plus social security benefits and health entitlements of British citizens living in other parts of the EU.

Germany is among the countries approached by London with an offer of a mini deal on social issues, three EU27 diplomats say. “It’s a sign of British desperation” said one of the diplomats.

“I see it as a clear attempt by the British side to go to countries and give them something they care about, such as citizen rights, to create goodwill and also weaken the EU’s common line that London must first ratify the Withdrawal Agreement before negotiations about future relations and trade can begin,” said Volker Treier, head of foreign trade at the German Chamber of Commerce.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told POLITICO his country has already come to an agreement with the U.K. that would come into effect if there is no deal. He said this is not a secret mini deal but “an agreement with the U.K. about voting rights, so Luxembourgers can vote for local elections in Great Britain, that maybe not change the result at the end but at least they have civil rights in the U.K. and that was important for that, I signed that with [British Brexit] Secretary [Stephen] Barclay.”

A Czech diplomat said no such a deal or any offer had been made by Johnson’s government to Prague.

The representative of the Commission at a meeting of Brexit officials last week noted approvingly that member countries are resisting offers of side deals from London. “Whatever the U.K. is offering has no solid legal basis,” according to one of the diplomats.

At a separate meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday last week, Barnier warned against an apparent attempt at divide and rule by the U.K. He said it is important that putting in place contingency measures for no deal should not lead to a slew of uncoordinated mini deals that could end up being more advantageous to the U.K. than the Withdrawal Agreement.

Brexit experts in the Council who are part of the EU’s Article 50 Working Group have been asked by the group’s presidency to report by Wednesday on offers made by Boris Johnson’s government, setting out in which sector an offer exists; to what goal; and whether any deal has been done. The answers will not be disclosed but will be discussed in a seminar to coordinate the bloc’s response, an EU official said.

So far though, London doesn’t appear to be having much luck. “They came to offer a mini deal, but they had not much to offer,” said one EU diplomat, “They couldn’t offer us to open a manufacturing plant that gives jobs, because they have no manufacturing. They couldn’t offer us defense, because we have NATO. They couldn’t offer money because their GDP is big but no so big. They could only offer to open one more bank branch.”

A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Department for Exiting the European Union said: “This story is untrue and seems to conflate two separate strands of work.”

The spokesperson said that the U.K. is seeking changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and to that end, lead negotiator David Frost is in talks this week with the Commission’s Task Force 50 in Brussels while Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay spoke to EU negotiator Michel Barnier by phone last week.

“Secondly, we are speaking to Member States about key bilateral arrangements in areas such as Citizens Rights to ensure we are ready to leave on 31 October, whatever the circumstances,” the spokesperson added.

Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting.
This story has been updated.

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Von der Leyen sets priorities with new Commission lineup

Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman ever selected to lead the European Commission, put forward her slate of nominees Tuesday. The team has 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 Dubrovnik 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.

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 | Tim Ball

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.

Meet the commissioners

Ursula von der Leyen has unveiled her picks for the next European Commission. Here’s POLITICO’s guide to the nominees, whose portfolios will be announced on Tuesday.

All will need approval from the European Parliament before they can take up their posts — except von der Leyen, who won confirmation from MEPs in July.

Ursula von der Leyen (Germany), president

Will be the first female Commission president. Born in Brussels. Attended the European School in the suburb of Uccle, graduating two years before Boris Johnson joined the same establishment. Mother of seven children. Entered politics only after she had finished her medical studies. Survived plagiarism accusations in connection with her thesis. Daughter of Ernst Albrecht, former leader of the state of Lower Saxony. Appeared on TV show “Die aktuelle Schaubude” singing with her family. Die Albrecht Familie also released a single in 1978 called “Wohlauf in Gottes schöne Welt” (“Well in God’s beautiful world”). Enrolled at the London School of Economics using the pseudonym Rose Ladson after her father was informed that his family could be a potential target for the Red Army Faction terrorist group. Joined the Christian Democratic Union in 1990, on the same day her father stepped down as state premier. For more than a decade, met with Wolfgang Schäuble for breakfast once a week. Longest-serving minister in Angela Merkel’s governments.

Frans Timmermans (the Netherlands), vice president

Not thrilled to have missed out on the job von der Leyen now has. Wears hipster glasses. Feminist. Former Dutch foreign minister. Polyglot. Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man/plumber. Both grandfathers were coal miners, as he may have mentioned. Four children. Defender of the single-use plastic ban. Refuses to go on a Dutch TV talk show after the host in 2014 pressured him into sharing an undisclosed detail about the attack on the MH17 flight. Not popular with Polish or Hungarian leaders. Has a lookalike called Hans Brusselmans. Vocal supporter of second-division football team Roda JC.

Margrethe Vestager (Denmark), vice president

Deputy queen of Europe (after Merkel). Failed in her bid to become Commission president but instead expected to get a super-charged portfolio. Donald Trump called her the “tax lady” who “hates the U.S.” because of her battle against tech giants. Former Danish Cabinet minister and main inspiration for the TV series “Borgen.” Known in Denmark for being a tough-minded, kickass finance minister. Knits small elephants to release post-College of Commissioners tension. Speaks French to express enthusiasm (“Mais c’est magnifique la Vivatech!” she told French radio in reference to the annual worldwide gathering of startups in Paris).

Austria — Johannes Hahn

Former minister for science accused of plagiarizing his Ph.D. (what does he think he is, German?) but allowed to keep his doctorate after an inquiry. Set up national “Award of Excellence” for the best doctoral thesis in Austria. Likes launching prizes. Also likes saving money, trying to pull Austria out of the renowned physics laboratory CERN in 2009 in a decision that was quickly overruled. Strong hand to win any future gambling commissioner portfolio as former CEO of betting company Novomatic. Criticized during Austrian student protests, who chanted “Hahn heißt er, uns bescheißt er” (“His name is Hahn, and he’s screwing us,” but ruder than that).

Belgium — Didier Reynders

Softly spoken lawyer from Belgium’s Francophone liberal party, the Reformist Movement (MR). Served as minister for finance (1999-2011), and for foreign affairs (2011-2019). In 2014 was in the running to become commissioner and prime minister but missed out on both. Loss of Reynders and Charles Michel (the incoming Council chief) leaves MR without its two big beasts. As finance minister, he devised a system granting major tax breaks to multinational companies, which was ruled illegal state aid by one Margrethe Vestager. Criticized for appearing in blackface.

Bulgaria — Mariya Gabriel

Responsible for digital economy and society in outgoing Commission. Gave up the European Parliament seat she won in May to remain at the Commission. Was an MEP from 2009 to 2017 — and won the MEP of the year prize twice during that time. Was a teacher and a researcher at Sciences Po Bordeaux. Loves bees. Wants to close the digital gender gap. Was cleared by Bulgaria’s anti-corruption commission of a potential conflict of interest case involving an apartment. Focuses on fake news, digital skills and the promotion of the European audiovisual sector. Does her own tweeting.

Croatia — Dubravka Šuica

Was mayor of Dubrovnik but left the post before the city gained even greater fame as King’s Landing in “Game of Thrones.” Taught German in Croatia, which could come in handy considering who the new boss is. Spent the last six years as an MEP, and rising through the ranks to become first vice chair of the European People’s Party in July. Apparently wasn’t crazy about the prospect of moving to the Berlaymont: insiders say she had to be begged to take the job.

Cyprus — Stella Kyriakides

Born under British rule, she trained in Britain as a child psychologist. As vice president of the Democratic Rally party since 2013, she’s President Nicos Anastasiades’ right arm. Career politician. Local press describes her as a “Mother Theresa” figure who tries to help others but doesn’t express strong opinions. Also dressed up as a nun at Nicosia’s carnival parade last year. Pushed for a law in 2018 decriminalizing abortion. This would be her first Brussels gig, but she’s known in Europe for her stint as president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (a rather powerless body tasked with holding 47 European governments to account on human rights and rule of law issues).

Czech Republic — Věra Jourová

Responsible for justice, consumers and gender equality in the outgoing Commission (but was “shocked” not to get the regional development portfolio). Studied cultural anthropology. Was a minister and an MP in her home country in the early 2010s. Spent 33 days in a Czech prison in 2006 after being falsely accused of corruption. Deleted her Facebook account over hate speech. Wants fish fingers, coffee and other types of food and beverages to have the same quality in Eastern and Western Europe. Made Airbnb change their terms of service. Her life story has been compared to a “dark version of ‘Borgen.’”

Estonia — Kadri Simson

Described as “always prepared” and “smiley.” But also no technocrat, according to one diplomat. Known in Tallinn for being very loyal to her Center Party. Unsuccessfully challenged for leadership of her party in 2015. Brought up in the university town of Tartu, which Estonians say “carries a spirit” that you’ll only understand if you visit (they may get kickbacks from the tourist board).

Finland — Jutta Urpilainen

Former finance minister and ex-leader of the Social Democrats. Veteran breaker of glass ceilings — she was the first woman to hold either of those jobs. Also Finland’s first female commissioner. Studied to become a school principal, but decided politics was a better fit. Known for her tough line demanding collateral in exchange for bailouts during the eurozone crisis. Crowned Europe’s “fourth best finance minister” in 2012. Will join the Commission straight from parental leave, as she recently adopted a second child from Colombia. Recorded a Christmas album called “Christmassy thoughts” featuring versions of  “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells.” Here she is singing “We Will Rock You.

France — Sylvie Goulard

Marseillaise with a soft spot for Europe, Germany and anything eurozone-related. Short-lived defense minister. Part of the French team that negotiated on the reunification of Germany. Designer of the Macron brand in Brussels. Very plugged-in EU integrationist who speaks German and Italian. Author of books such as “Europe: love or separate beds?” and “Goodbye Europe!” Stood for the European Parliament presidency in 2016. Worked for Romano Prodi when he was Commission president. Currently deputy governor of the French central bank. Once said there shouldn’t be a Commission full of  “old white men.” MEPs will grill her over alleged misuse of EU funds by her party during her time in the European Parliament and highly paid side gig as a consultant to a U.S. think tank.

Greece — Margaritis Schinas

Until recently European Commission chief spokesperson. Sometimes known as “senior Commission official.” Now becomes, well, a more senior Commission official. A member of the European Parliament for Greece’s center-right New Democracy between 2007 and 2009. Married to Mercedes Alvargonzález, a top European Parliament official. Has quoted the Spice Girls from the podium. Not a fan of being called a “bureaucrat.” Once told a Belgian reporter the Commission had “no intention to ban Belgian fries and another kind of fries,” and added: “Les frites, c’est chic!” Has a reputation for taking calls and answering messages; even his enemies say that he replies to them. But not a press room favorite.

Hungary — László Trócsányi

MEP who served as Hungary’s justice minister from 2014 until 2019. Was a member of the country’s Constitutional Court and had stints as ambassador to Belgium and France. Not a member of the country’s ruling Fidesz party, but led the party’s list in the European Parliament election. Perceived as loyal to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Candidacy faced questions as he served as justice minister at a time when critics say the Hungarian government worked to undermine checks and balances.

Ireland — Phil Hogan

Fixer, bruiser, wily operator. As EU farm chief, steered the bloc through a milk overproduction crisis and proposed his own Common Agricultural Policy. Took flak in Ireland from farmers over the Mercosur trade agreement. Fine Gael government views him as a shrewd deal-maker who helps Ireland punch above its weight. Has been brutally critical of Brexit and Boris Johnson. Reputation at home sullied after introducing an unpopular water charge at the height of the financial crisis. Stands 1.95 meters tall. Renowned for his hearty Irish diet of meat and potatoes. Has been known to greet reporters with an affectionate “this little f**ker!”

Italy — Paolo Gentiloni

Descendant of Count Gentiloni Silveri. Former prime minister. Aristocratic far-left activist in his twenties, turned president of the Democratic Party. Polyglot and former journalist. Former minister for foreign affairs and communications. Known for his elegance, manners and diplomatic skills. One of the most vehement opponents of his party’s new governing alliance with the populist 5Stars. A move to Brussels is the perfect way for him to pull out of national politics. Known as “er moviola” (“slow-mover” in Rome’s local dialect).

Latvia — Valdis Dombrovskis

Was prime minister for almost half a decade, as the government was forced to slash salaries and spending under an international bailout. Stepped down after 54 people died when a shopping center collapsed. Worked as a lab assistant in Germany. Ex-MEP. Arriving in Brussels, he was made vice president for the euro and social dialogue, albeit with a public-speaking style more disciplined than chatty (except perhaps while sharing a few drinks with the press). Mid-term, he picked up the pieces of the financial services file, after Britain’s Jonathan Hill quit.

Lithuania — Virginijus Sinkevičius

Doesn’t seem to be big on climate change or gender equality (in Lithuania at least), which could cause trouble with his new boss. Member of the Farmers and Greens Union party, which is not green enough for other Greens. Youngest Commission nominee, at 28. Entered politics in 2016. Known for keeping a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat in his office. Studied in the U.K. and the Netherlands. Worked for the Lithuania Tribune news portal. Once won an award for “Best Solution for Better Business Environment of the Year,” whatever that means.

Luxembourg — Nicolas Schmit

Born in Luxembourg’s steel heartlands. Polyglot. Socialist with international ambitions. Long-serving labor minister under coalition governments led by Jean-Claude Juncker and Xavier Bettel. Formerly von der Leyen’s opposite number when she was labor minister in Germany. No stranger to Brussels. Served as Luxembourg’s ambassador and permanent representative to the EU for six years. In a 2011 scandal, he denied attempting to pressure police officers to drop charges against his son. The 18th most popular Luxembourg politician, according to a survey. Won the nod for EU commissioner as part of horse-trading for coalition posts following Luxembourg’s 2018 election.

Malta — Helena Dalli

First Maltese woman nominated for the Commission. Would be first movie star and beauty pageant contestant to be a commissioner. An MP for the Labour Party. Later became minister for social dialogue and EU affairs. Introduced the marriage equality bill in Malta. According to the Times of Malta, Dalli (formerly Abela) won the Miss Malta contest 40 years ago and represented Malta in the Miss World contest in London. Starred in an action film called “Final Justice.” Told POLITICO that in the European Parliament “there is a very good move for [gender] parity, but I am sorry to say not in the Commission.” Will hopefully be less trouble than the last person called Dalli to be a commissioner.

Poland — Janusz Wojciechowski

Has had one of Poland’s more limber political careers. Former judge and member of an agrarian satellite party to the ruling communists. Was a member, then leader of the farmers’ Polish People’s Party (PSL). In Europe, has been a member of the European People’s Party, Europe of Nations and Freedom, and European Conservatives and Reformists. Replaced Krzysztof Szczerski who withdrew himself from consideration after von der Leyen proposed that the country get the agriculture portfolio. Polish member of the European Court of Auditors. Columnist for Poland’s hard-right, ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja network. Has a habit of writing biting poems about his long list of political enemies. Under investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud agency, OLAF, for alleged irregularities in the reimbursement of travel expenses.

Portugal — Elisa Ferreira

Economist. Deputy governor of the Bank of Portugal. Held ministerial posts under former Prime Minister António Guterres. Served three terms as an MEP for the Socialists & Democrats (S&D). Led the European Parliament’s work on one of the main elements of banking union. Has said “the banking system is European in life and national in death.” Chosen ahead of former Infrastructure Minister Pedro Marques. First Portuguese woman to be put forward as commissioner. Part of the S&D’s “alternative troika” sent to Greece to look at ways to stimulate the economy.

Romania — Rovana Plumb 

Romanian MEP from the ruling PSD party. Loyal to former PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, who’s now in jail over a case involving fake jobs for party workers. Doesn’t get along with current Romanian commissioner Corina Crețu. Former EU funds minister. Was a suspect in 2017 in a case by Romania’s anti-corruption agency but avoided investigation because MPs voted to keep her immunity. Vice chair of the Socialists and Democrats group.

Slovakia — Maroš Šefčovič

Has lost campaigns to be president of Slovakia and center-left candidate for the European Commission presidency this year. Gearing up for a decade in the College of Commissioners. Career diplomat. Šef, as he’s often called, spent the past five years trying to mediate a standoff over gas supply between Russia and Ukraine. Big into space and expanding EU battery production. Fits it all in between workouts at Basic Fit. Big “Star Trek” fan, he once told POLITICO to “live long and prosper.”

Slovenia — Janez Lenarčič

Career diplomat. Degree in international law. Has served as ambassador to the OSCE, director of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, secretary of Slovenia’s permanent U.N. mission, and the PM’s diplomatic adviser. Was politically unaffiliated when nominated, as Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said he didn’t want to pick anyone from the main coalition parties (although as a former satirist, Šarec may have been joking). But will belong to the liberal ALDE camp. Ex-Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek ‘s right-hand man in the field of international relations.

Spain — Josep Borrell

Son of a baker from a village of 3,000 people in the Pyrenees. Former aeronautics engineer and Stanford student. Has a reputation for speaking his mind and challenging authority. A 72-year-old veteran of the Socialist takeover in Spain in 1982. Represented Spain in the (failed) European Convention on the future of Europe in 2002. Former European Parliament president at a time when Parliament presidents were not very visible. Catalan, but an outspoken opponent of Catalan independence. One of the first to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president. Reckons you should “leave God” out of politics. Was president of the European University Institute based in Florence, but quit amid controversy over an alleged conflict of interest.

Sweden — Ylva Johansson

Minister of employment since 2014. Entered politics as a communist then defected to the Social Democrats. Worked as a minister in five different governments under three prime ministers. Has been described as the “left wing of the Social Democrats.” Former math, physics and chemistry teacher. Fell in love with her husband Erik Åsbrink when they were both ministers in the 1990s. Member of Sweden’s backup government in case of war. Huge fan and honorary member of Hammarby football club. Very strong Instagram game.

By Lili Bayer, Hannah Brenton, Jan Cienski, Paul Dallison, Maïa de La Baume, Laura Greenhalgh, Anca Gurzu, Melissa Heikkilä, Laura Kayali, Ivo Oliveira, Kalina Oroschakoff, Joshua Posaner, John Rega, Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli, Eline Schaart, Bjarke Smith-Meyer, Paola Tamma, Simon Van Dorpe, Eddy Wax.

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