THE EU appointed a new team to run the European Commission last week, the union’s powerful executive arm. News of the changing of the guard in Brussels was noticeably absent from the British media.

But after all, Boris has refused to name a Brit to serve on said Commission, given he intends for the UK to be out of the EU by Halloween – or die in a ditch. However, in or out, the UK Government will have to negotiate with the new Commissioners, so we had better have a look at who’s who.

The Commission’s new boss – replacing Jean-Claude Juncker – is Ursula von der Leyen, former German defence minister and the longest-serving member of Angela Merkel’s Cabinet. How Von der Leyen became president is a story in itself. There hasn’t been a German politician in that job for more than half a century, while tiny Luxemburg has provided three Commission bosses.

The reason is that member states prefer the Commission to be run by a minor ex-pol (such as Juncker), or a technocratic non-entity, who will do as they are told, rather than by a big political beast who will take their orders from Paris or Berlin. Yet this time round, Berlin has parachuted in a leading politician from the ruling, right-wing Christian Democrats. Why?

Originally, Angela Merkel had plotted to see her old friend Von der Leyen replace her as German chancellor. But the protégé has recently blotted her political copy book, partly by antagonising a caucus of uber-male Christian Democrats who don’t want another female chancellor. Also, Von der Leyen spectacularly imploded as defence minister, alienating the military high command by her aloofness and becoming embroiled in a military procurement scandal that still hangs over her. So Merkel has packed Ursula off to Brussels, in the process dumping her first choice for Commission president, the dull Manfred Weber.

READ MORE: Former EU Council president says Brexit has changed attitudes to independence

READ MORE: Will the EU grant a new Brexit extension to January?

These back-room, domestic manoeuvrings by Berlin have upset a lot of MEPs of all parties, so Von der Leyen starts her new job in Brussels with a lot of baggage. Berlin feels it has to mend fences. Which may explain Von der Leyen’s allocation of Commission portfolios (sans the UK, of course). First up, the French have got the plum internal market brief through Sylvie Goulard, a political liberal and currently deputy governor at the French central bank. Goulard has been nominated to the Commission by President Emmanuel Macron. He is desperate to return to the good old days (pre-Britain) when Europe was run by a Franco-German condominium, in which the Germans got on with making money while leaving the French to handle the international politics.

Unfortunately for Macron, the German economy is spluttering thanks to a loss of export sales to China. Berlin is now more interested in running the European show itself, partly to further German economic interests, and partly to broker new direct relationships with Beijing and Moscow, given Trumpian isolationism. Chancellor Merkel is in a battle to the political death with the anti-EU, anti-immigrant populists of the Alternative for Germany party. The last thing she wants is to be seen to pander to Macron’s feverish and naive demands for renewed European integration.

But Berlin still needs to hand Macron a face-saving compromise. By handing the internal market portfolio to Goulard, Von der Layden has achieved this. This portfolio covers EU industrial policy, plus defence and space technology. It plays to those parts of the economy where France is strong and so reassures the big French industrial monopolies that their special interests are being protected in Brussels. From a Brexit point of view, don’t imagine Ms Goulard will be working overtime to help British high-tech and defence companies get a foothold in European markets.

Next up, the Commission’s finance portfolio has gone to Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni, a Maoist in his distant youth, now turned establishment technocrat. His appointment as watchdog over the EU’s fiscal arrangements, taxation, customs, fraud and banking affairs is mind-boggling. Italy’s corrupt banking system has been teetering on the brink of collapse since 2008 while the Italian budget deficit constantly threatens to escape EU rules. Putting Gentiloni in charge of the finance brief is a bit like putting the fox in charge of the hen coop. He may personally be honest. But that’s not the point. He’s been made EU finance commissioner so everyone can pretend for a few more years that Italy is not a fiscal basket case. That keeps Italy in Berlin’s pocket.

The National:

I think Von der Leyen’s really creative appointment is that of Irishman “Big Phil” Hogan to run the Commission’s trade portfolio. Hello and goodbye, Brexiteers. Hogan managed the family farm in Kilkenny before turning politician with the Fine Gael party. In the last Commission, he had the agriculture brief. That got him a lot of stick at home in the old country when he okayed a trade deal with Latin America which disadvantaged Irish farmers. Don’t expect Phil to make that mistake again when he sits down to negotiate with the UK after Brexit, should it come. Big Phil has a bit of the blarney about him.

“This, for instance, was quoted by the Irish Independent: “If the UK fails to prevent a crash-out Brexit, it should be under no illusion regarding the foul atmosphere it will create with its EU partners and the serious consequences this will have for negotiating any future trade agreement ... the UK Government’s only Churchillian legacy will be – ‘never have so few done so much damage to so many’...”

The other big appointment is that of Spanish Socialist Party member Josep Borrell as EU foreign spokesperson. German banks are still owed a fortune by their Spanish counterparts, so expect Borrell to support Berlin in any showdown.

However, this political bruiser is determined to use the EU foreign affairs brief for local Spanish consumption. Which means he has to show he is tough on British control over Gibraltar, the better to offset criticism from the Spanish right. My bigger worry is that Borrell will use his position in Brussels to pursue the Spanish state’s opposition to Catalan self-determination, and its cruel vendetta against Catalan-elected representatives who have languished in prison following the 2017 independence referendum.

Borrell’s appointment, and the recasting of the Commission directly in the interests of Berlin, should be a warning to us that the EU bureaucracy is not some liberal tea party – and certainly not particularly friendly to imprisoned small nations such as Catalonia.

I am pro-Europe because Brexit is a plot by the racist right (funded by billionaire hedge fund owners) to destabilise the status quo and injure the interests of working-class people. Equally, I believe the current EU structures require immediate and drastic democratisation, or they will be used against any radical administration in an independent Scotland – just as they were used to impose austerity in Greece and Ireland during the euro crisis.

The SNP leadership is courting major risks by seeming to prioritise its anti-Brexit campaign over indyref2, and by ignoring the urgent need to speak up for EU reforms. Europe is our friend. We should not make it our master.