Ursula von der Leyen’s long way to the top


On 16 July, Ursula von der Leyen was elected President of the European Commission with a thin majority, with only 383 MEPs in favor. Even though she managed to convince some skeptical MEPs (particularly among the ranks of Social Democrats and Greens), the former German defense minister faced – and still faces – some critics on her path to the EU’s top job.

The new President of the European Commission, however, knows that she can count on the strong backing of the European Union’s leaders (who nominated her), and particularly on the two most powerful of them: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Then, even though some MEPs were still reluctant to vote for her, Ursula von der Leyen knows she can rely on the two biggest Europeans countries, but also on the European People’s Party, the biggest force in the European Parliament (and Angela Merkel’s political group).

Furthermore, as becoming the President of the European Commission also comes as a highly symbolic role, Ursula von der Leyen also has the advantage of appearing as a “self-made woman” and “true” European. Politico reports indeed that she was raised in Brussels and is the mother seven children. Furthermore, she also once welcomed a Syrian refugee and made sure he had learned both English and German. Those elements, that some might consider to be details, could have actually played a role in her recent confirmation for EU’s top job. Her ability to quickly switch from one language to other is also highly appreciated, particularly in a multilingual environment such as the European Union.

Finally, while many MEPs did not appreciate to the way Ursula von der Leyen was “so quickly” presented as the European Council’s nominee, the European Parliament might slowly change opinion as she seems eager to include the Parliament in the decision-making process: she promised to bring forward legislative proposals on topics when requested by a majority of MEPs and made a series of promises to the Liberals, the Socialists, and even the Greens, as Politico reports.  Only time will tell if her strategy will work.