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The Merkel ally nominated for the EU's top job is facing resistance

Key Points
  • The 28 EU leaders chose Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to replace Jean-Claude Juncker at the helm of the Commission.
  • Her appointment needs the approval of the European Parliament before it becomes official.
  • The new European Commission president is set to take office on November 1.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Defense Minister Ursula von de Leyen
Sean Gallup | Getty Images

The German defense minister chosen to lead the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has received a mixed reception from European lawmakers.

On Tuesday, the 28 EU leaders chose Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to replace Jean-Claude Juncker at the helm of the Commission. It's the EU institution in charge of overseeing fiscal policy, negotiating international trade deals and representing the different member states in Brexit talks.

However, her appointment needs the approval of the European Parliament before it becomes official. The directly-elected chamber, made up of 751 politicians, is due to vote on her appointment in the week beginning July 15, but a number of lawmakers have already raised their opposition. These include the Socialist group, the Green Party, and some conservative lawmakers from Germany. Together with the Euroskeptic parties at the EU, it's unclear whether Von Der Leyen will be able to get the 376 votes needed.

"It will be very critical the discussion here in the parliament and it will be really important what Ursula von der Leyen will say during this two-week period," Eero Heinäluoma, a lawmaker at the European Parliament, told CNBC Wednesday.

"If we can get some kind of political program for the next five years — that is something which members of parliament here are waiting (for)," Heinäluoma added.

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If there's no majority in support of the German defense minister, then the EU heads of state will have another month to come up with a new name. Several politicians have also pointed to some mismanagement and misspending while she led the German defense ministry and, overall, many members of the Parliament were hoping someone from their own chamber would get the job as Commission president.

Von Der Leyen admitted last year that her department had made mistakes in allocating contracts worth millions of euros to external consultants, after an investigation by the Bundestag.

This institutional battle at the EU may not mean much outside the European bubble, but it's the first hurdle that Von der Leyen will have to conquer to become the president. The fact that she brings gender balance to the EU's top jobs is in her favour. The 28 heads of state made a clear effort to select female candidates to lead the institutions, appointing Christine Lagarde, the managing director at the International Monetary Fund, as the next European Central Bank chief.

"The feelings here are (at the Parliament) a little bit mixed," Heinäluoma told CNBC. If approved, Von der Leyen will being creating her team in the coming weeks. The new European Commission president is set to take office on November 1.

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