Who is she?
She is the new President elect of the European Commission.
Ursula von der Leyen has been elected by the European Parliament to be President of the European Commission, with a majority of only 9 votes. She is a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which sits with the European People’s Party (EPP).
Before her nomination, she served as German Defence Minister under Chancellor Angela Merkel (2013-2019). Prior to this, she served as the Minister for Labour and Social Affairs (2009-2013) and Family Affairs (2005-2009).
As Defence Minister, she faced criticism for her reliance on external consultants, as well as her management of the Federal Army.
Von der Leyen is a European federalist and is in favour of a European army in the long-term.
On Brexit, she supports the idea of a very close relationship between the EU and the UK after the UK’s withdrawal, and would be willing to recommend a further extension to the Article 50 process. However, she is not willing to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement.
What does this mean for policy-making?
Von der Leyen’s confirmation by the European Parliament was not certain from the outset: with the Greens-EFA and leftist GUE/NGL voting in a bloc against her nomination, the liberal Renew Europe and centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) used the opportunity to make policy demands.
In her programme, entitled ‘A Union that strives for more’, von der Leyen made commitments to Renew Europe and S&D:
- Increase the EU target for greenhouse gas emissions reductions to 55% by 2030
- Extend the Emissions Trading System and introduce a new Carbon Border Tax
- Integrate sustainability chapters in all new EU free trade agreements
- Implement the European Pillar of Social Rights
- Regulate the conditions of platform workers
- Complete the Banking Union and reform EU corporate tax law
The most striking takeaway from the von der Leyen nomination is that she has managed to gain the general support of the political groups (S&D and Renew Europe – the most significant gains) by making considerable policy commitments in her programme.
Going forward, the narrow majority and policy concessions, as well as the fragmented nature of the new European Parliament, will mean that alliances and cleavages will be formed on a policy-by-policy basis. Indeed, while they did not vote for von der Leyen, the Greens-EFA stated that they will work together with her on climate protection and a social Europe.