Tuesday (March 8th): Von der Leyen and the future of the EU

Name? Ursula von der Leyen

Westphalian identity? German

Age? 63

Why is she in the news? As President of the European Commission, von der Leyen plays a pivotal role in the European Union’s response to the crisis in Ukraine. Von der Leyen announced that for the first time ever, the Commission would use the European budget “to purchase and deliver military equipment to a country that is under attack.”

Why do we care? Not only did von der Leyen pledge 500 million euros with regard to military equipment, but also 500 million euros in humanitarian aid for Ukraine—and there is more to come. As she has been noncommittal on both Ukraine EU membership and banning Russian energy exports, these high dollar pledges prove just how far the Commission is willing to go…

Why should you care? Von der Leyen invoked the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) in response to 1.3 million Ukrainians entering the EU. The TPD effectively opens up residency rights for most refugees to live and work in the EU, gaining access to health and education services. You should care 8/10 about the TPD’s first ever use and the impact it will have on Ukrainian and EU citizens alike.   

Who else cares? President Salome Zourabichvili of Georgia and President Maia Sandu of Moldova care about the Ukraine conflict for the likelihood of von der Leyen fast-tracking Ukraine’s EU membership amidst the current crisis as both Georgia and Moldova have also filed applications for EU membership. Though Ukraine EU membership is unlikely for now, Zourabichvili and Sandu will be watching the president with a careful eye. 

Any further comments? After last year’s ‘Sofagate,’ it’s clear that gender biases not only continue in international affairs, but reach the highest levels of governance in the international system. So like von der Leyen, we hope ‘Europe will be at the side of women,’ from any and every country, this International Women’s Day.