Europe Politics

Ursula von der Leyen will be the next EU Commission president after lawmakers back her nomination

Key Points
  • Ursula von der Leyen, a long-time ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was nominated about two weeks ago by the 28 European heads of state.
  • However, there were doubts as to whether she would manage to gain enough support from EU lawmakers.
Ursula von der Leyen.
Popow/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Ursula von der Leyen will be the next president of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, after lawmakers approved her nomination on Tuesday.

383 European lawmakers voted in favor of the appointment, surpassing the 374 votes needed to confirm her.

The incoming president told the parliament that trust placed in her by lawmakers reflected a "confidence placed in Europe" Von der leyen added that her endeavour was a "united and strong Europe."

Moments earlier, the incoming president took to Twitter to say thank you in several languages.

Tweet 1

In a snap note, Chief Economist at Berenberg Bank, Holger Schmieding said the EU had "averted a major institutional crisis" by securing the appointment, although noted her vote number fell far short of existing president Jean-Claude Juncker who secured 422 votes, 5 years ago.

Schmieding added that the appointment of von der leyen removed any doubt that Christine Lagarde will be the next ECB President. Earlier Tuesday, Lagarde resigned from the IMF, effective as of 12 September.

Despite criticism, EU lawmakers backed the German defense minister for one of the most prominent jobs in Brussels. Starting on November 1, von der Leyen will replace Jean-Claude Juncker and be responsible for putting forward proposals on all EU policy areas, including trade, foreign affairs and fiscal rules. She will have a key role in shaping the next five years of policymaking in the region.

Von der Leyen, a long-time ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was nominated about two weeks ago by the 28 European heads of state. However, there were doubts as to whether she would manage to gain enough support from EU lawmakers. She was not a candidate that ran in the European elections in May, leading some lawmakers to suggest her nomination was undemocratic. Some German lawmakers have also raised concerns with an ongoing investigation into the mismanagement of external contracts given to consultancy firms.

Von der Leyen, one of the longest serving ministers in Germany, had different meetings with European lawmakers over the last two weeks in an attempt to clear the air and convince them that she is the right person to become the next European Commission president.

She vowed Monday to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050; to interpret fiscal rules with "full flexibility" to ensure growth-friendly economies; as well as to keep respecting the rule of law — the framework by which EU countries must respect certain democratic values, including press and judiciary independence.

One of the biggest issues ahead will be Brexit, with the U.K. scheduled to leave the EU on October 31. Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday morning, von der Leyen stated she would be happy extending that deadline provided there's a good reason. Nonetheless, the final decision on whether to extend Brexit would be in the hands of the EU leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel.

Throughout her various remarks and letters to lawmakers, von der Leyen has expressed pro-growth and pro-trade commitments.

"I believe we can strengthen Europe's role as a global leader and standard setter through a strong, open and fair trade agenda. We believe in trade because it supports 36 million jobs and accounts for over a third of our gross domestic product (GDP)," she told liberal lawmakers in a letter on Monday.

In the same letter, von der Leyen defended the flexible use of the bloc's fiscal rules. European rules state that euro countries should not have a public deficit above 3% and a public debt pile above 60% of their GDP. However, certain countries have challenged these rules on different occasions — arguing they needed to spend more in order to boost their economies. The most recent standoff over budget rules involved Italy, the third largest economy in the euro area.

Family history

Von der Leyen was reportedly born and then raised in Brussels, Belgium until she was 13-years-old before moving to Germany. She speaks native French and German and is also fluent in English. A mother of seven children, she graduated as a physician in 1987 from the Hanover Medical School.

In 1977, von der Leyen fled to London and lived under the name Rose Ladson after her family was told she was a potential kidnapping target. Her father, Ernst Albrecht, was a German politician of the Christian Democratic Union during the late 1960s. He served as Prime Minister of the German state of Lower Saxony from 1976 to 1990.