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The good, the bad, and the ugly of the new European Commission

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The new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, introduced her nominees for the posts of individual commissioners on Tuesday. As is always the case in the European Union, the final product is a mixed bag  a compromise between countries run by ideologically diverse governments pursuing their respective national interests.

First, the good. The new European Commission is more likely to respond effectively to the changing strategic environment that Europe finds itself in than the previous one. “This Commission will be a geopolitical Commission,” von der Leyen asserted in her speech introducing the nominees. Though disagreements exist about her record as Germany’s defense minister (her efforts to sell spending increases to the German public were arguably not successful), she is coming into her role from a position in which the shifting security environment, including the looming threats of Russia and China, were central to her portfolio.

Contrary to many other European politicians, von der Leyen has never bought into the knee-jerk anti-Americanism that has come to life in the Trump era. Instead, she remained a steadfast defender of the alliance with the United States as something that is much bigger than the politics of the moment on either side of the Atlantic.

There are also many undoubtedly competent nominees across the new Commission, including well-known figures from the previous one, including Margrethe Vestager who is staying on as the competition commissioner, or Valdis Dombrovskis, with the new title of commissioner for an “economy that works for people.”

To be sure, one can have legitimate questions about many of the picks. Most importantly, is Josep Borrell really the person to hold the job of the High Representative, the EU’s top diplomatic position? As Spain’s foreign minister, Mr. Borrell bizarrely announced with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, the creation of a joint cyber-security working group to address disinformation. He also seems to believe that the Belt and Road Initiative “is proof that China is no longer considering itself a net receiver and starts considering itself a contributor to the world, and this is something Spain welcomes.”

Yet by far the most worrisome nomination is that of László Trocsányi as the new commissioner for enlargement. Mr. Trocsányi served until this year as Hungary’s justice minister, just as rule of law and democratic standards in Hungary dramatically deteriorated. Even more significantly, Ukraine will be by far the most important item on his agenda. The success of Ukraine in its domestic reforms and sustaining its democracy is one of the most vital goals of the EU’s engagement within its neighborhood. Yet Viktor Orbán’s Hungary has sought to systematically derail Ukraine‘s rapprochement with the West, including with NATO. But it is not a clear win for Messrs. Orbán and Trocsányi yet — the Fidesz nominee will likely face some very tough questions in his confirmation hearing.

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