New EU chief treads carefully as she builds team

Photo: AFP

While others spend August on the beach, EU president-elect Ursula von der Leyen works on the delicate task of building a team to run the bloc's executive for the next five years.

After she was only narrowly approved by the European Parliament, the former German defence minister faces a tricky balancing act.

She is trying to accommodate the competing demands of different political parties to make sure her team survives a confirmation vote by MEPs in October.

Each EU state gets to nominate one person to serve on the European Commission, and von der Leyen's executive will have only 27 members instead of the current 28 because of Britain's withdrawal from the EU - expected on October 31.

She is still waiting for six countries to name their candidates: France, Italy, Belgium, Croatia, Portugal and Romania, which have until August 26, the deadline imposed by the European Council, to appoint representatives.

"The unknown will be Italy," said a source close to von der Leyen.

She visited Rome in early August, but deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini's decision to pull his far-right League party out of a ruling coalition with the Five Star Movement (M5S) complicates the appointment of the new Italian commissioner.

Once she has the names and qualifications of all the candidates, von der Leyen will start handing out portfolios, and they will then face confirmation hearings at parliament in September.

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