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If not Ursula, then who? Seven in the wings for Commission top job

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If not Ursula, then who? Seven in the wings for Commission top job

The Commission chief post will be put up for grabs after the EU elections. Who might be the other options to Ursula von der Leyen?

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A re-appointment of Ursula von der Leyen at the helm of the EU executive seemed a matter of course, but her leadership of the EU executive has lost its lustre in the wake of the withdrawal from office of her pick for SME envoy, Markus Pieper, and following some wobbles over her response to the crisis in the Middle East.

The possibility that she mightn’t now get the nod of both EU leaders and incoming MEPs this summer has become a more realistic prospect.

Her main selling point has always been continuity with the current Commission, but also the lack of actual competitors for her post.

Alternative names are now doing the rounds, however – at least in Brussels – although other candidates won’t formally throw their hat in the ring before the elections.

Mario Draghi, the Wizard

Draghi’s speech (16 April) at the high-level social forum in La Hulpe was hailed by the Italian press as a thinly disguised candidacy for the top job. Even in Brussels, the former Italian prime minister enjoys a reputation for making things happen, as if by magic.

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The secrets of his witchcraft remain elusive, however – his spell in the face of the euro-area debt crisis was “whatever it takes”. He appears to be developing a new incantation in connection with the report on competitiveness he is preparing, commissioned by von der Leyen herself, referring to the need for “a radical change”.

Pros: Probably the most known European politician with an aura of infallibility, also perceived to be above the fray of party politics.

Cons: The risk of having someone who’s “too good” in the top job, overshadowing everyone else – one reason that led Italian parties to pull the plug on his premiership.

Odds: EU leaders and MEPs unlikely to reject Draghi, even Viktor Orban has told reporters in Brussels he “likes” him.

Kristalina Georgieva, the Evergreen

Outgoing European Council President Charles Michel – who will be a key broker in negotiations for the next EU top jobs – said ahead of the special April EU summit that the next Commission will be an ‘economic’ one.

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If this is true, who better than the current International Monetary Fund director, Kristalina Georgieva, for the top job?

The name of the former EU budget Commissioner is an evergreen when EU key posts are discussed – and was already circulated in 2019 when von der Leyen was ultimately appointed.

Pros: She could be Eastern Europe’s long-awaited first Commission chief since the ‘Great Enlargement’.

Cons: She has just been reappointed as IMF Director and compared to other candidates, has fewer connections to the key decision-makers in Brussels.

Odds: Strong with the Council for her support of Eastern countries, solid to shaky in the Parliament.

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Andrej Plenković, the Outsider

If its official Spitzenkandidat von der Leyen should fall, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) has other strings to its bow – including Plenković.

The Croatian prime minister has led the government since 2016 and might be tempted to pursue a more international career, particularly if his party is defeated in the national elections scheduled for this week.

Pros: Longstanding experience as head of government, emanates from EU’s newest member state – a goodwill signal to candidate countries on the waiting list.

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Cons: More ‘political’ than ‘policy’ oriented profile.

Odds: Friendship with many fellow EU leaders might make it easy to be appointed but confirmation would rely on coalition-building ability in Parliament.

Roberta Metsola, the Apprentice

When Time magazine included Metsola among 100 emerging leaders shaping the world in 2023, von der Leyen herself penned the accompanying encomium.

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“Do not ever give in to cynicism. You can be the engine of change,” the current Commission chief advised the younger politician who might now succeed her mentor.

In her short international career, Metsola has burnished her EPP credentials, becoming the first EU politician to meet Zelenskyy in Kyiv following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

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She’s no frontrunner however: her name would likely emerge if there was no agreement on reappointing von der Leyen and likelier candidates fell away.

Pros: Charisma and youth, plus strong pro-European credentials.

Cons: Lack of international experience, no previous jobs in any government – a problem for EU leaders.

Odds: Easier in the Parliament as outgoing president, more challenging in the European Council.

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Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Ace

Greece’s prime minister could prove another ace in the hole for the EPP if things get tough around the negotiating table. In a recent tweet, EPP party leader Manfred Weber said that Mitsotakis “represents EPP leadership at its best” – words he’d not likely offer von der Leyen.

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Mitsotakis is well-liked by fellow EU leaders and could also be a good pick for chairing the European Council if the EPP fails to take the Commission post.

At the recent Euronews ON AIR event, the Greek leader highlighted three main drives for the next EU term: strategic autonomy, competitiveness, and food security – sounding prepared for a State of the Union speech.

Pros: Previous experience as EU leader. He speaks good English and French, and enough German to address the plenary in the annual State of the Union address.

Cons: The whiff of domestic scandal could make him a risky choice.

Odds: Strong with the Council, relying on the political majority in the Parliament as EPP candidate.

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Christine Lagarde, the Banker

The current European Central Bank (ECB) governor would be another solid pick if Michel’s prophecy about an ‘economic’ Commission turns out to be right – particularly if negotiations fall into stalemate.

In 2019, she won the helm of the ECB given a push by Emmanuel Macron and might well be the French president’s pick once again.

Pros: Good record wherever she’s been, from the French government to the IMF and the ECB.

Cons: A choice that would look bureaucratic or detached from citizens, too close to Macron (for good or ill).

Odds: If her name emerges at the leaders’ table, it’s a sure sign they’re running out of ideas and she could be one of the last good picks available. Could she win the support of a right-leaning Parliament, however?

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Klaus Iohannis, the Strategist

What if Michel is wrong and Europe opts for another ‘geopolitical’ Commission? In this case, the Romanian President’s name might emerge like a rabbit from the hat.

Iohannis is also running for NATO Secretary General – although Dutch PM Mark Rutte seems to have the edge in that race – so he has a ready-made vision for Europe’s defence that might be recyclable for the next Commission.

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Pros: Candidate from an Eastern country and the EPP.

Cons: Depends on the outcome of the NATO race.

Odds: Relatively well viewed in the European Council, but needs an EPP majority in the Parliament.

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'Ron, I love that you're back': Trump and DeSantis put an often personal primary fight behind them

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'Ron, I love that you're back': Trump and DeSantis put an often personal primary fight behind them

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are signaling to donors that they are putting their rivalry behind them after a contentious and often personal primary fight.

DeSantis convened his allies this week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to press them to raise money to support Trump, making the case over a seafood and steak dinner that they need to work together to prevent Democratic President Joe Biden from winning a second term. The governor and about 30 people then spent Thursday morning in a hotel conference room raising money for an outside group that supports the former president’s 2024 White House campaign.

Trump called into the gathering to thank members of the group for their work, according to four people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to publicly discuss the private session and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In what three people present described as a warm and gracious call to the group that was heard over speakerphone, Trump praised DeSantis and the effort, saying “Ron, I love that you’re back.”

A reconciliation helps both of them. Trump is trying to make up fundraising ground against Biden while DeSantis hopes to preserve a potential future White House run for which Trump’s supporters could be key.

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What to know about the 2024 Election

DeSantis and his top donors are raising money for the super political action committee Right for America, backed by big Republican donors such as Ike Perlmutter, who has agreed to match at least a portion of the DeSantis team’s fundraising rather than funneling money directly to Trump’s campaign.

That arrangement, reached after talks between the Trump and DeSantis camps, is designed to address concerns among DeSantis supporters about their money going to pay the former president’s legal bills, according to people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks. Trump notably blessed the structure when he called into the group’s meeting Thursday.

“This is where I want you to focus,” Trump said in a roughly 15-minute call, according to a senior political adviser to DeSantis who was not authorized to publicly discuss the private meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

DeSantis’ decision to push money to the PAC instead of giving directly to Trump’s campaign has raised eyebrows among some Trump campaign officials, according to a person familiar with the former president’s campaign thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the arrangement.

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Right for America is competing for donors with MAGA Inc., the chief super PAC backing Trump. Such groups are prohibited from directly coordinating with a presidential campaign, something that hamstrung DeSantis during his presidential run due to conflicts between his campaign and his support of Never Back Down, the largest super PAC backing DeSantis’ candidacy.

Other supporters of both men support the arrangement. Right for America is run by Sergio Gor, a longtime Trump ally who is close to the former president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. The two run Winning Team Publishing, which published two of the former president books.

Some DeSantis donors had been reluctant to give to Trump because they worried their money would help pay Trump’s lawyers in his criminal cases instead of being used directly to focus on beating Biden.

A number of big-name Florida contributors who have given to DeSantis remain hesitant about contributing to efforts to support Trump, said Al Hoffman, a Palm Beach County Republican donor and former Republican National Committee finance chair.

“I know that there are Republican conservative, big-money donors that are very reluctant to endorse Trump,” said Hoffman, who was also chairman of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s 2002 reelection campaign.

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DeSantis endorsed Trump when he dropped out of the race and promised in a face-to-face meeting with the former president in April to work for his campaign. The 45-year-old governor, who has won two terms and pushed a longtime swing state increasingly to the right, may run for the White House again and would need the backing of Trump voters in a future Republican primary.

DeSantis called his allies to Fort Lauderdale this week to raise money for Trump, telling them on Wednesday night that they needed to work to prevent a second Biden term.

The meeting was the kickoff for what is expected to be a coast-to-coast fundraising effort by DeSantis allies, with upcoming events likely in Texas, California, Washington state and perhaps New York.

Trump and DeSantis have also discussed a role for the governor at the Republican National Convention. Aides to DeSantis said it was Trump’s suggestion and was not contingent on any fundraising effort on DeSantis’ part.

Donors who discussed the Thursday event were struck by the collegiality between Trump and DeSantis during the call to the meeting. One person who spoke on condition of anonymity about the closed-door gathering called the conversation “very gracious” and noted that Trump and DeSantis talked about golf, a favorite Trump pastime.

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

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The Mystery of Indira Gandhi's assassination by her own bodyguards

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The Mystery of Indira Gandhi's assassination by her own bodyguards

Indira Gandhi, a prominent Indian politician and the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s inaugural prime minister, was tragically assassinated by her own bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984. 

Born Nov. 19, 1917, she emerged as a central figure in her country’s political landscape, eventually becoming prime minister in her father’s footsteps. 

The trust she placed in her favorite Sikh security guard, following Operation Blue Star, ultimately proved to be a fatal mistake. In exploring the narrative of Gandhi’s assassination, it is crucial to examine the backgrounds and motivations of her assailants, shedding light on the reasons that led to their fatal decision.

Prior to her time in office, Indira Gandhi studied at prominent institutions, including Somerville College, Oxford and the Visva-Bharati University in West Bengal. (Shukdev Bhachech/Dipam Bhachech)

Who was Indira Gandhi?

Gandhi served as her country’s third and only female prime minister starting in 1966 to 1977, and then served another term from 1980 until she died in 1984.

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As a central figure of the Indian National Congress, she was admired for her leadership and criticized for her authoritarian approach. She played a significant role in Indian politics and is often cited as a trailblazer for women throughout the country.

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Gandhi was a key player in Indian politics for 17 years, whether in office or out of it. She played an active role in the Independence movement and closely worked with her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, a pivotal figure in the establishment of contemporary India, serving as his assistant when he was prime minister. In 1959, she also held the position of president of the Indian National Congress.

Indira Gandhi speaks into microphone to crowd

Indira Gandhi’s tenure has been characterized by significant economic and social changes, but also by allegations of authoritarianism.

Indira Gandhi becomes prime minister

Gandhi rose to power suddenly after Lal Bahadur Shastri died in 1966. At the outset of her leadership, India struggled with significant economic hardships, including high inflation and food shortages. The country’s agricultural sector was vulnerable due to its dependence on the monsoon seasons and aid from the U.S. 

She also faced substantial political challenges and dedicated much of her tenure to overcoming these issues, the same issues Nehru attempted to resolve. She fought to direct India toward self-reliance and economic resilience. By 1980, India had become self-reliant and even became a nation of grain surplus, alongside notable industrial progress — achievements attributed to her governance.

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Indira Gandhi with father Nehru

Indira Gandhi’s involvement in politics began at an early age, often accompanying her father on his political campaigns. (Hulton Archive)

Acknowledged milestones during her leadership include the triumph in the 1971 War with Pakistan, the formation of Bangladesh and the cementing of India’s status as a potential nuclear power. All of these developments strengthened India’s self-esteem. 

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Her tenure ended with her assassination, leaving behind a legacy of achievements and unresolved tensions. 

Indian society was divided about her; some called her “Mother Indira,” and others viewed her as authoritarian. However, it is widely accepted that her leadership shaped India and set the course for its future.

Ram Bulchand Lalweni being led away to court after a failed assassination attempt of Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984, following the events of Operation Blue Star. (Keystone/Getty )

Operation Blue Star

Gandhi’s time as prime minister was impaired by increasing tensions with Sikh separatists, culminating in Operation Blue Star. This was the Indian army’s response in June 1984 to remove militant Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers, who had hidden themselves within the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The militants’ substantial armaments led to a heavy-handed military response, which included the use of artillery.

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The conflict ended on June 10 with the army seizing control of the temple. However, the operation, which coincided with a significant Sikh religious event, resulted in numerous civilian deaths who were present at the time. This resulted in widespread condemnation from Sikhs globally. They interpreted it as an attack on their religious community.

Indira walking during the Inspecting Guard of Honor ceremony

Indira Gandhi served as prime minister of India for three consecutive terms (1966-77) and a fourth term from 1980 until her assassination in 1984.

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The repercussions of Operation Blue Star severely damaged Gandhi’s standing with Sikhs, which eventually led to her assassination.

Assassination of Indira Gandhi

Gandhi’s assassination on Oct. 31, 1984, was committed by her bodyguards, notably Beant Singh, who was considered a favorite. The assassination was a consequence of the tensions from Operation Blue Star and led to a planned reassignment of Sikh bodyguards, including Singh. Gandhi canceled the transfer, worried about increasing her anti-Sikh persona. 

Indira Gandhi with son Sanjay

Indira Gandi married Feroze Gandhi in 1942, and together had two sons, Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. (Keystone/Getty)

On the morning of her assassination, despite being advised to wear a bulletproof vest, Gandhi was not wearing it. 

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As she walked through a gate headed to an interview, Singh shot her three times in the abdomen with his .38 revolver. Satwant Singh, another bodyguard, fired 30 rounds from his submachine gun. Following the assault, Beant was located and killed by Border Police, and Satwant was tried and executed in 1989.

Indira Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, succeeded her as prime minister of India. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This report has been updated to clarify Indira Gandhi’s successor.

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Salis under house arrest in Hungary pending trial and EU elections

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Salis under house arrest in Hungary pending trial and EU elections

Italian activist Ilaria Salis will be under house arrest until her trial concludes, with another hearing scheduled for Friday in Budapest. However, she could be released if elected in the European elections.

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Italian anti-fascist activist Ilaria Salis was released from Budapest’s maximum-security prison on Thursday morning, where she had been held for over 15 months, and placed under house arrest.

“We finally have the chance to hug her again, we hope this is a temporary stage before finally seeing her in Italy,” said Roberto Salis, the Milanese activist’s father.

The release follows a Hungarian court’s decision on May 15 to uphold Salis’ appeal against her pre-trial detention.

The Italian teacher will now be under house arrest in a flat in the Hungarian capital, monitored by an electronic bracelet.

It took several days to enforce the judges’ decision after a €40,000 bail payment.

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Salis was arrested on 11 February 2023 together with two German activists on charges of participating in the beating of three far-right militants and being part of a criminal association.

Salis’ lawyers are hopeful for a commitment “from the Italian authorities to secure Ilaria’s immediate transfer to Italy,” as required by European law.

After months of diplomatic tensions and protests against Hungary over Salis’ pre-trial detention, the activist’s case took a turn after she was nominated by the Left Green Alliance for the upcoming European elections in June.

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