Washington Backs Lagarde to Head IMF
FILE - International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde

PARIS - European Union leaders picked two women, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and current International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, to fill the bloc’s top slots, breaking an extensive deadlock over candidates.

For the first time in European Union history, two of the bloc’s most powerful positions will be headed by women — assuming the European Parliament gives their nominations a thumbs up (approval). Ending weeks of wrangling that reflected geographic and political divides, EU leaders agreed on German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen as president of the next European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm. Former French finance minister and current IMF head Christine Lagarde was nominated to head the powerful European Central Bank.

FILE - German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen speaks in Athens, March 5, 2019.

Belgium’s acting prime minister Charles Michel was selected to fill a third top spot —president of the European Council that gathers the EU heads of state. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell was tapped as the bloc’s next foreign policy chief. All the nominees come from the EU’s founding member states.

The 28-member bloc yet to fill another key post: head of the new EU parliament. Experts believe a candidate will be nominated shortly—likely, some say, from Eastern Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the selections as the fruit of an entente (informal alliance) by the EU’s most powerful members, France and Germany, and a coming together of the bloc’s various political factions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also praised the spirit of EU unity, which she said will be essential moving forward.

Analysts said unity may indeed be crucial in the weeks to come, as the EU returns to dealing with one of its biggest crises — the ongoing Brexit negotiations.