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European Union poised for another tussle on key portfolios

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Even though European Union (EU) governments have already chosen who will lead the bloc's top institutions, they're bracing for another round of horsetrading, as discussions on the assignment of the executive's most sought-after portfolios - from competition to climate change - begin.

[BRUSSELS] Even though European Union (EU) governments have already chosen who will lead the bloc's top institutions, they're bracing for another round of horsetrading, as discussions on the assignment of the executive's most sought-after portfolios - from competition to climate change - begin.

Following her confirmation by the European Parliament last month, EU Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen is accepting nominations from member states for the team of senior officials who will be in charge of proposing and monitoring legislation across the continent over the next five years.

Ms Von der Leyen, who will assign portfolios to individual commissioners, has already started the process of vetting candidates. The nominees will go before European Parliament committees starting Sept 30 to answer questions from lawmakers. During the week of Oct 21, the entire team will be subject to confirmation by the assembly in Strasbourg, France, before it can assume its duties.

Some countries are sticking with known entities: The EU's antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, one of the most visible commissioners thanks to her crackdown on big-tech behemoths and on corporate tax evasion, has already been nominated by the government in Denmark for another term. The Netherlands has also put forward Frans Timmermans, the commission's vice president who has been at the forefront of enforcing rule-of-law issues, for another five-year post.

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The commission proposes and enforces European laws on everything from auto emissions to energy pipelines. It also monitors national economies, negotiates trade deals, runs a diplomatic service, manages the bloc's budget and acts as Europe's competition authority.

While the jobs assignment is in theory up to the president, national lobbying, backroom deals between governments and personalities matter. And while the commissioners are supposed to represent the interests of the EU and not their native state, getting an important portfolio is seen as a matter of national prestige, supposedly reflecting each capital's influence in the bloc's politics.

Complicating things further, Ms von der Leyen has pledged a gender-equal commission leadership. Her demand may meet resistance from heads of government, which have traditionally enjoyed the freedom to nominate whoever they wanted, rewarding loyalists or even occasionally expelling internal opponents to Brussels.

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