On 16 July 2019 the European Parliament elected Ursula von der Leyen the future President of the European Commission. She is the first woman to be President-elect of the European Commission. A European by heart and by conviction, Ursula von der Leyen announced that she will focus on an ambitious climate agenda to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. She also committed to working closely with the European Parliament to strengthen democracy and a fair social market economy in Europe. She is seen as a staunch integrationist, backing closer military co-operation in the EU and highlighting earlier this year the “potential Europe has to unify and to promote peace”.
Ursula von der Leyen also gave a very personal insight into her idea of Europe’s path amid global challenges: “We need to do it the European way”.
She promised to push for the EU to play a bigger role in social welfare, to tackle poverty, and has stressed that she would stand up for women’s rights. She pledged in the past to allow a further extension of the UK’s withdrawal date from the EU “should more time be required for a good reason”.
Ursula von der Leyen, fluent in English and French, and a member of Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen Full Biography and Profile
Ursula von der Leyen is a licensed physician and was born on 8 October 1958 in Brussels. She is married and has seven children. Her father, Ernst Albrecht, was the minister-president of Lower Saxony and the former director-general of the European Commission, among other posts. She told the European Parliament that her father, Ernst Albrecht, who was a senior official in Brussels in the 1950s before becoming a German state premier, had always told his children that when countries traded, they built friendships and did not shoot each other.
At the age of 13, von der Leyen moved from Brussels to Germany with her family. She went on to study economics at the London School of Economics and later medicine with a specialisation in gynaecology in Hanover.
The native French and German speaker has seven children — relatively rare in Germany, where the average birthrate is 1.59 children per woman.
Von der Leyen got into politics at the age of 43 and has been a member of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) party since.
She held various local political positions within the Hanover region between 2001 and 2004, then elected to Lower Saxony’s state parliament in 2003, before becoming a cabinet member as the minister for social affairs, women, family affairs and health.
Von der Leyen was catapulted into the German political landscape in 2005 when Merkel appointed her federal minister of family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth. Four years later, she was elected to the Bundestag, or German federal parliament. She was the federal minister of labour and social affairs until 2013.
Her tenure as defence minister saw her defence department was accused of awarding questionable private contracts linked to the hiring of two consulting firms, McKinsey and Accenture.
She later said several errors were made in allocating contracts and that she would endeavour to prevent it from happening again through a series of new measures.
Ursula von der Leyen Values:
- Gender balance: She announced plans to fill EU commissioner posts with equal numbers of men and women and said she would ask European leaders to give her two candidate names – one male, one female – for each post. Currently only eight of the 28 EU commissioners are women. Soon after her nomination she adopted the twitter hashtag Europe Is A Woman.
- Brexit: She still hoped the UK would abandon its plan to leave the EU, but also warned the UK to take responsibility and “sort things out”. She said she stood ready for a further extension of the UK’s withdrawal date from 31 October “should more time be required for a good reason”. On the Irish border, she said the Northern Ireland backstop – the most controversial part of the agreement negotiated between the EU and UK Prime Minister Theresa May – was “precious, important, and has to be defended”.
- Climate change: She promised to introduce a “Green Deal for Europe” within 100 days of taking office, to set into a law a target of making the EU carbon-neutral by 2050. She plans to turn parts of the European Investment Bank into a Climate Bank. Her comments have failed to satisfy the Green parties.
- Migration: She said she was committed to reforming the EU’s asylum system, which member states have been struggling with for years, with a reinforced border guard. She spoke in favour of enlarging the eurozone and the EU’s open-border Schengen area, and said the bloc should be ready to take in Western Balkan countries.
- Defence: While backing Nato as the “cornerstone of our collective defence”, she said the EU should invest in joint defence capacities that would complement those of the Western alliance. The EU should “become more assertive” towards the United States, she said.
Ursula von der Leyen Quick Facts
Since December 2013: Federal Minister of Defence
2009 – 2013: Federal Minister of Labor and Social Affairs
Since October 2009: Member of the German Bundestag
2005 – 2009: Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth
Since December 2004: Member of the Presidium of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) of Germany
March 2003 to November 2005: Minister for Social Affairs, Women, Family Affairs and Health in Lower Saxony
2003 – 2005: Member of the CDU in the State Assembly of Lower Saxony
2001 – 2004: Various local political positions in the region of Hanover
1999: Member of the Physicians’ Working Group of the CDU of Lower Saxony
Since 1990: Member of the CDU
Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen Professional and academic career
1998 – 2002: Member of the academic staff, Department of Epidemiology, Social Medicine and Health System Research, Hanover Medical School (Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, MHH)
1995: Market analysis, Stanford Health Services Hospital Administration
1993: Auditing guest: Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
1992 – 1996: Lived in Stanford, California, USA
1988 – 1992: Assistant physician, Women’s Clinic, Hanover Medical School
2001: Master of Public Health (M.P.H.)
1987: State examination and license to practice
1980 – 1987: Studied medicine at Hanover Medical School
1978: London School of Economics
1977 – 1980: Studied economics in Göttingen and Münster
1971 – 1976: Attended grammar school with a special focus on mathematics and science, Lehrte
1964 – 1971: European School of Brussels
Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen Speech in the European parliament
Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen pledged to push to give the European Parliament “the right of initiative” – meaning the Commission would have to legislate on MEPs’ resolutions; currently only the Commission can draft laws. On irregular migration to the EU, she said she would boost the EU’s border force Frontex to 10,000 staff by 2024, but said “we need to preserve the right to asylum through humanitarian corridors”. She offered an EU “reinsurance scheme” to bolster national insurance schemes for the unemployed.
- Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen Biography and Profile (EC / Goodreadbiography)