Recent decades have shown that politics, once the sphere of men, is also of interest to the fairer sex. One of them is the current President of the European Commission, Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen.
The dispute among the representatives of the member states in the election of the chairperson of the commission in 2019 was ended by French President Emmanuel Macron proposing Ursula von der Leyen. The first female President of the European Commission had to resolve Brexit issues and set up a common course for the Union to combat the pandemic.
Daughter of a minister with politics in her blood
Ursula von der Leyen (born on 8th Oct 1958 in Ixelles, Belgium) comes from a politically active family with a love for art. Her grandfather was a doctor, and her uncle Georg Alexander Albrecht the conductor and artistic director of the Hanover State Opera. Her father Ernst Albrecht, a prominent politician of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was a long-time Minister President of Lower Saxony. She lived in Brussels for many years with her family, thanks to which she is fluent in French. As a potential target of the then German extreme left, she lived in London under the pseudonym Rose Ladson. Incidentally, her older brothers gave her the nickname Röschen (a diminutive of Rose)which is still used by her older brothers. After studying medicine, she worked as a doctor's assistant at the Women's Clinic of the Hannover Medical School. She and her husband Heiko von der Leyen, also a physician and descendant of a noble family from Krefeld, lived in California for several years. She became politically active in the late 1990s, first in local politics and from 2003 in federal politics. From 2013 to 2019, she was the first woman to hold the position of German Minister of Defence, in which she gained international respect from NATO partners. As a member of the CDU, she helped Angela Merkel move the party to the political centre.
Healthcare and digitization
Health, climate and social affairs are topics close to her heart. This stems not only from her medical education, but also from the death of her 11-year-old sister Benita-Eva, who died of cancer. As a consequence, in 2019 she announced the European Commission’s interest in becoming a leader in the fight against cancer. As she says, the current pandemic has revealed the importance of cooperation among the 27 states in the development, purchase and distribution of vaccines against COVID-19, but also weaknesses, for example, in the digital area. She has announced support for digitization and a proposal to build a secure European digital identity. She has set firm goals and intentions in the direction of pan-European policy, especially in the area of social care, which male politicians often perceive less empathetically. When Hollywood star Meryl Streep mentioned her, she commented on the need for greater involvement of women saying: " This is exactly the type of women we need! They are mothers and at the same time hold important positions."
The European Commission's six priorities
She outlined her intentions for EU reform as a candidate in her vision for the European agenda, as well as in the first EU Health Report of September 2020. She focused on the Union's economic recovery, which she sees in supporting small and midsize businesses through the SURE programme, helping to remove barriers to the EU single market, establishing tax reform and a new strategy for the Schengen Area and international trade. One of her main concerns are environmental priorities in order to achieve carbon neutrality and a sustainable Europe. She is also prioritising the questions of increasing democracy and the rule of law, internal security, border protection, social care, the asylum system and the need for a new migration pact. It should be based on saving lives at sea and effectively combating traffickers. She advocates against racism, hatred and discrimination, and the fight against hoaxes.
Vision of European federalism
Some blame her for supporting the creation of a European army, federalization, and the creation of the ‘United States of Europe’. Others consider her the protector of the Central European Visegrad Four. She considers herself a European federalist and would like the EU to function like Switzerland or the United States.
At the AI Experience Centre in Brussels.