Daughter of a high ranked civil servant of the EEC and the EC, she was born and raised in Brussels, and then moved to Germany – and lived in other European countries. As a consequence, she is familiar with the European Union from the very beginning of her political career.
Ursula von der Leyen started her path into politics in 2003 at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – the main conservative party in Germany. Among the posts she held, she was Minister of Family Affairs, where she highlighted the need of taking away the burden on women to raise children. Her journey as Defence Minister was a big deal as she passed some policies that concerned gender equality. During the four terms in which she has occupied the position of minister, she was in Merkel’s Cabinet, and so these two powerful female figures are close to each other. Since December 1st she is the President of the European Commission, a designation for which she had Merkel’s support.
She made it clear at the beginning of her mandate that the European Union must regain the language of power. This meant not only increasing the Union’s economic ties, but also deepening the construction of an EU military capable of dealing with the defence challenges ahead. To this end, von der Leyen appointed a clearly geopolitical Commission, a Commission composed, among other political figures, of Josep Borrell, Frans Timmermans and Margrethe Vestager. However, despite the fact that her term of office began in earnest with the announcement of the European Green Deal, COVID-19 attracted the attention of the media and politicians. Thus, von der Leyen’s efforts in the first months of her term of office have been focused on getting the EU out of a crisis that has affected it, and will affect it economically, internally and globally.
Regardless of the accountability she has to the European Parliament during her term of office, as well as the limitations that the European Commission has in enforcing its will on the European institutional framework, von der Leyen is used to surprise us with her political movements. Therefore, despite its limitations, her time in the Commission will leave its mark.
A female in a major position
She has been the first woman to occupy all the major political positions she has reached. Furthermore, she has profited from her power to achieve equal rights for women in the areas where she had the chance to legislate and promote new regulations. An example of this behaviour is her career as a defence minister in Germany. We can expect that she defends a more equal Commission and policies during her current term in office.
From a conservative party, but progressist in her behaviour
Her political party in Germany is the conservative one, which has a liberal ideology regarding the economy – free-market economy and social welfare programs. Even though Merkel has supported climate change policies and support migrants in the EU territory, her party has been conservative in some social aspects.
Despite the above, Von der Leyen has defended what she thought it was right. When passing the law to approve equal adoption rights and same-sex marriage, she voted in favour. On that occasion, a majority of her political party and Merkel herself voted against both measures.
As a consequence, we have as a European Commission President a politician whose values and what she thinks is the correct thing to do, are ahead of her party’s ideology.
A Christian politician from a Christian, aristocratic family
Her father, Erns Albrecht, was a leading figure in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), party in which Von der Leyen started her political career. Furthermore, her father was also a high ranking official of the European Commission. Apparently, Ursula is following and surpassing her father’s steps.
The 61-years-old EC President was raised according to Christian values that have led her to help others and build strong family ties during her life. These family values could have an impact on her socio-cultural policies, as well as her vision on the EU migration system.
A politician with strong allies
She has worked in Merkel’s cabinet for several years and, although many thought she would be her successor, she never cared about building a strong support base within the CDU.
Merkel’s support in her candidacy to be the EC President was a key factor. Furthermore, both of them would be in charge of two of the main EU institutions from July 2020, when Angela Merkel started presiding over the Council of the European Union.
Anyway, Merkel is not her only influential friend. Her nomination for the EC Presidency was also backed by Schäubel, with whom she shares a close relationship.