EU President Ursula Von Der Leyen to unite Europe
The EU took a leap forward in appointing its first female commission president, but Ursula von der Leyen's victory was tight. Forbes reports in its article EU Elects Its First Female President Ursula Von Der Leyen that Germany's former defense minister narrowly received the backing of Members in the European Parliament (MEPs) for the biggest job in Brussels on Tuesday.
The conservative, who is a political ally of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, won 383 votes—which is nine more votes than she needed to be elected—but 17 votes short of a stable majority to get her policies passed through parliament.
Following the secret MEP vote in Strasbourg, von der Leyen said “it is a big responsibility and my work starts now. Let us work together constructively.”
Von der Leyen had been on a charm offensive with the European Parliament to get their support after the EU Commission called her name out of nowhere two weeks ago. It was a compromise deal for the bloc, which also saw Christine Lagarde’s nomination, after 50 hours of mammoth discussions between EU leaders.
Several MEPs had voiced their outrage that the traditional system—known as spitzenkandidat process, which only allows candidates that ran in a European Parliament election to compete for the top jobs—was ignored.
Von der Leyen has said she would mediate in talks between EU leaders and the parliament on how to improve the process in the future, which could involve amendments to EU law.
The 60-year-old Brussels-born former gynecologist and mother of seven had campaigned on a gender balance for the 28 commissioners she will manage.
Ahead of the parliament vote on July 16, she told MEPs “If member states do not propose enough female commissioners, I will not hesitate to ask for new names,” adding, “we represent half our population. We want our fair share.”
Von der Leyen faced a backlash from the liberal parties and the European Green Party who previously said they would not vote for her.
But her staunchest critics were from her own country. Germany’s Social Democrats Party (SPD) raised concerns about her record as defense minister.
Under her tenure, the SPD said there were gaps and inadequacies in the military. Critics have also highlighted an investigation into an alleged scandal that the Defense Ministry, under her watch, handed out multi-million euro contracts to outside consultants.
The former SPD leader, Martin Schulz, described her as “our weakest minister.”
Von der Leyen resigned from her role as defense minister even before she was elected commission president so she said she could “serve Europe with all my strength.”
Her policies for the future of the bloc under her five-year leadership include an ambitious plan to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050, a promise for a minimum wage for workers in Europe, and said she would take aim at the low tax bill U.S. tech firms pay in Europe.
If her path to getting the top job was rocky, actually performing it will prove even more difficult.
Faced with Brexit uncertainty, clashes over how to handle the migration crisis, and democracy divisions, her priority will be to conjure ways to unite the already factitious bloc.
The Eurosceptic parties did not win the outright majority they had hoped for in May’s parliament election but they did make major gains and could cause disruption by exploiting the various divisions in the liberal parties.
However, the optimistic Van der Leyen said earlier on Tuesday: “If we are united on the inside, nobody will divide us on the outside.”