Ursula Von der Leyen: a portrait (part I)

Everything seemed to be clear. In the run-up to the European elections 2019, both the European Parliament (EP) and the Commission agreed that the lead-candidate of the winning party should after the election also be elected as the new President of the Commission. But as it happens so often, things looked different as soon as the election results were there.


While the European People’s Party (EPP) with their Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber became the strongest party, only the European Council has the right to propose a candidate for a vote of confirmation in the EP. After some negotiations the heads of the European governments found themselves unable to find a qualified majority for any of the proposed candidates, raising doubts about the usefulness of lead-candidates in the first place and anger among members of parliament. However, they ultimately agreed on a candidate that came as unexpected to many: Ursula Gertrud Von der Leyen.


Because of her rather rapid entrance on the international stage I would like to review her background to allow you to get a better idea of what to expect from her as the new President of the European Commission. This portrait is split into two parts: this first one, focussing on her political career so far, and a second one discussing what to expect from her as President of the Commission.


Born this way

Born in 1958 and raised in Brussels as the daughter of one of the first European civil servants, Von der Leyen was able to portray herself as a European rather than German candidate. Back in July when she presented herself before the European Parliament, she held her speech in German, English and French. Although ultimately unnecessary due to simultaneous translation in the Parliament, this move underlined her efforts to address the fear of a Europe dominated by German interests. In the speech outlining her policy goals Von der Leyen also revealed another thing about herself: she is an ambitious person in every aspect of life. Before entering politics, she studied medicine in the UK as well as in the US and ultimately obtained a doctoral degree. She entered politics and became a member of the christian-democrat party CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union) in 1990.