EU leaders have put forward their nominations for the bloc’s top jobs, with a woman for the first time proposed for European Commission chief.

The surprise choice of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen to replace Jean-Claude Juncker came after the main front-runners were rejected.

IMF head Christine Lagarde has been nominated for the head of the European Central Bank (ECB).

The announcement follows days of difficult negotiations.

In all, EU leaders were tasked with nominating five people for the top jobs.

Belgian liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel is nominated to replace European Council President Donald Tusk while Spain’s Josep Borell is proposed as foreign policy chief.

The ECB role is currently filled by Mario Draghi, who was widely credited with saving the euro during the eurozone debt crisis.

Ms Lagarde said she was “very honoured” to have been nominated, tweeting that she had “decided to temporarily relinquish my responsibilities as IMF Managing Director during the nomination period”.

Their nominations must be approved by the European parliament.

‘Perfect gender balance’

“We have agreed the whole package before the first session of the European Parliament,” said Mr Tusk.

He praised the “perfect gender balance” and said Germany had abstained on Ms von der Leyen’s nomination over coalition issues. However, he pointed out that Mrs Merkel herself had backed her.

The German leader told reporters that her abstention had come according to a deal reached in the ruling coalition in Berlin.

“We agreed this in the coalition: that if there is no unanimity, then one abstains. But one can say this has been approved today without any opposition,” she said.

If Ms von der Leyen is confirmed in the role it would be the first time in more than 60 years that a German has been given the post.

The fifth key nomination – that of President of the European Parliament – is to be chosen on Wednesday.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the nomination of two women for key jobs sent a powerful message that the EU was leading the way towards gender equality.

However, there were concerns that the European Parliament’s own contest for the main job – the “Spitzenkandidaten” (lead candidate) process – had been cast aside. Neither the winner of that process, Manfred Weber of Germany, nor other frontrunners were selected by EU leaders.

“You have to compromise in politics,” Mr Varadkar insisted, adding that the centre-right Mr Weber would most likely be given the shared presidency of the European Parliament along with a Socialist figure.

There was also surprise that four of the main jobs had gone to Western Europeans, with no nominations from Eastern Europe.

However, the eastern states are thought to have been strongly behind Ms Von der Leyen’s nomination, having rejected a compromise involving Dutch Labour leader Frans Timmermans the night before.