By Stefan J. Bos
Two days after one of the longest-ever EU summits - beating even the all-nighters that marked the Greek debt crisis - European Council President Donald Tusk struggled to convince the European Parliament of the credentials of top job candidates. Critics argue they were chosen more for political reasons than for their competence.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen was nominated to take over as head of the EU's powerful executive arm, the European Commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws.
Tusk made clear that it's the first time a woman has been picked for that job, which would also mark the first time a German has led the Commission in decades.
He urged the EU's parliamentarians to back her and the other appointments made by European Union leaders. "For the first time in our history, the European Council proposed two women and two men to lead the key EU institutions. I feel happy and proud that we have achieved a perfect gender balance in those top positions. This is a very positive change. Europe is not only talking about women, but it is also choosing women," Tusk told the assembly, which will vote on von der Leyen in mid-July.
"I hope that this choice will inspire many girls and women to fight for their believes and passions. And I also hope that it will inspire the European Parliament in its decisions," Tusk added after the Bloc's 28 national leaders assigned the union's top jobs for the five years ahead.
Von der Leyen was nominated Tuesday along with Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell as the EU's top diplomat, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as Council president -taking over from Tusk - and International Monetary fund chief Christine Lagarde as European Central Bank president.
But several European lawmakers have condemned the way the decisions were made, with one Spanish parliamentarian saying that the future of the European Union can no longer be decided behind closed doors and through secret plots.
The debate comes while the future of the European Union remains uncertain with Britain planning to leave the Bloc later this year.
Additionally, government ministers from six Western Balkan nations that aspire to join the European Union met with their counterparts from some EU member nations Thursday in Poland to discuss the status of the EU's enlargement process, which has been lacking momentum.
Foreign, interior and economy ministers from membership candidates Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Albania, as well as potential candidates Bosnia and Kosovo, are seeking reassurance that they can become EU members one day.
French President Emmanuel Macron has reiterated that he thinks the EU should first carry out internal reforms before taking in new members. But Poland's Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said at Thursday's gathering that including Western Balkans nations in the EU would in his words, increase regional stability and development and spread the EU's values to more of Europe.
"Without the Western Balkans," the minister argued, "Europe cannot be seen as fully united, in the geographical as well as in the geopolitical point of view."