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Von der Leyen, nominee to head EU executive, rushes to seek parliament backing

EU governments' surprise nominee for president of the European Union's executive, Germany's Ursula von der Leyen, will seek support in the EU parliament on Wednesday hoping to secure the confirmation that she will need in two weeks' time.

In a deal done by the 28 member governments on Tuesday after long and fraught negotiations, Von der Leyen, a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is due to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, and France's Christine Lagarde will head the European Central Bank.

Von der Leyen needs to be confirmed in her new job by an absolute majority of the 751 EU lawmakers.

Yet the selection wrangles could portend difficulties ahead for Von der Leyen, currently, German defense minister, as she tries to marshal a strong and united EU response to issues ranging from global warming to trade wrangling with Washington and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The parliament did, however, get its wish on Wednesday to choose its preferred candidate as a speaker for the next 2-1/2 years, something that may smooth ruffled feathers. The socialist and green groupings had been particularly upset at Von der Leyen's nomination.

Italian socialist David Sassoli, a 63-year-old former journalist who has served for ten years as an EU lawmaker, was elected after two rounds of voting.

Von der Leyen can, however, rely on the support of the main center-right and liberal groupings. Another conservative group led by Poland's ruling PiS party also looks set to back her.