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New EU leaders inherit a fragmented and fussy bloc

Not least, there is a lot of chaos now in Europe and in the trans-Atlantic relationship, with US President Donald Trump threatening a trade war, serious divisions over how to deal with Iran and the continuing psychodrama of Brexit.

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Von der Leyen, 60, will now replace Jean-Claude Juncker as the bloc’s most prominent bureaucrat, attending G20 summits and advancing EU interests in negotiations with major powers.

The European Commission has a central role in creating and implementing policies and laws that regulate the lives of half a billion people. From what they eat to how they spend their money, the Commission’s influence over European life is enormous.

Its new boss will preside over the institution at one of the most defining and challenging moments in the bloc’s history.

Lagarde, 63, is a lawyer and former French government minister who has been running the IMF since 2011. While not a trained economist, she is considered an excellent manager with extensive contacts around the world.

In a package deal of political ideologies, gender and region, the leaders also decided to name Charles Michel, 43, the Belgian prime minister, a liberal, as president of the European Council, replacing Donald Tusk, and proposed Josep Borrell Fontelles, 72, a former Spanish foreign minister, as the new foreign-policy chief, to replace Federica Mogherini.

Macron said the picks reflected the Franco-German alliance that’s dominated the EU since its inception. They were partly “the fruit of a profound Franco-German entente,” he said.

“This decision allows us not to divide Europe, either politically or geographically.”

The talks among the 28 member states failed to produce a consensus last month and nearly failed again Sunday night and Monday morning. They resumed again on Tuesday with previous favourites having been turned away in the negotiations and amid an air of mounting crisis and fatigue.

For all the drama, it is important to remember that the real power in the European Union rests with its member states and their leaders, not with the heads of the bloc’s bureaucracy.

Even the Commission president, the most important of the EU positions, and the foreign policy chief must be approved by Parliament.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference following an EU leaders summit in Brussels.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference following an EU leaders summit in Brussels.Credit:Bloomberg

And in the new Parliament itself, which met for the first time on Tuesday in Strasbourg, members from the Brexit Party stood with their backs to the podium during the playing of the European Union’s anthem, Ode to Joy, while members of the British Liberal Democrats wore yellow t-shirts reading: “Bollocks to Brexit.”

The New York Times, AP

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