The “Queen of Europe” went on punk gigs under a pseudonym and fathered seven children – now her next move is eagerly awaited

Ursula von der Leyen’s commission has gathered more power than ever before. Who is the “Queen of Europe” seeking a second term, and how have the EU’s power relations changed during her tenure?

In 2019, a surprising name assumed the leadership of the European Commission. Ursula van der Leyen. Van der Leyen, an outsider to the high-profile candidate process, won a parliamentary majority by a handful of votes, and expectations for his tenure were not high.

Now van der Leyen is already spoken for As Queen of Europe. Van der Leyen and the Commission he leads have taken on an even more important role when crises such as the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine have created the need for effective decision-making.

However, the Commission’s increased powers and Van der Leyen’s management style have also attracted much criticism.

Born into the EU elite

Von der Leyen in Strasbourg since the beginning of the year. EPA/AOP

Ursula van der Leyen, née Albrecht, was born in 1958 in Brussels, where her father was chief of staff of the German Commissioner. He attended the European School in Brussels and learned to speak French fluently in addition to German. However, the family returned to Germany in the early 1970s when his father entered politics and became Prime Minister of the state of Lower Saxony.

Ursula with her father Ernst Albrecht (centre) after being elected Prime Minister of Lower Saxony in 1976. ZumaWire / MVPHOTOS

Albrechts in 1978. Photos: All Over Press and Zumawire / MV Photos

The Albrechts were a prosperous business family. Family life included meal prayers, horse riding and house concerts, often attended by the father’s party colleagues from the Christian Democratic Party.

In the early 1980s, van der Leyen studied economics in London under the pseudonym Rose Ladson due to kidnapping threats from the left-wing militant Baader-Meinhof group. Instead of the London School of Economics library, van der Leyen was more comfortable at punk concerts.

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After returning to Germany, he switched his business studies to medicine. For her future husband, from a noble family By Heiko van der Leyen, whom he met in the choir of Göttingen University. The couple married in 1986 and had seven children in the family.

Ursula and Heiko in 1986. ZumaWire / MVPHOTOS

Protected by Merkel

In the 1990s, the family moved to California, where Heiko taught at Stanford University. A housewife in California, Ursula began her political career in local politics in Lower Saxony after the family returned to Germany in 1996.

Von der Leyen first entered Lower Saxony’s parliament in 2003 and became chancellor in 2005. Angela Merkel He appointed him as the Minister of Family and Youth Affairs in his government.

Van der Leyen and Merkel in 2019. ZumaWire / MVPHOTOS

Van der Leyen, who served as family and youth affairs minister and later as labor minister, was known for promoting equality issues, particularly paid parental leave and childcare, which angered the party’s conservative wing. The “super mom” who rose quickly in politics was even considered to be Merkel’s successor.

However, van der Leyen’s star began to wane from 2014 when he was defense minister. The weakened state of the German armed forces awakened Van der Leyen’s remote management style, which relied on corruption and external advisers. A lot of criticism.

Defense Minister van der Leyen was in Pakistan in 2016. AOP

Crisis Commission

After becoming head of the commission at the end of 2019, van der Leyen set about implementing an ambitious plan.

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– Despite low expectations, the professor says, he has been very effective and has pushed forward big things like comprehensive legislative projects on green transition and digitization. Johanna Kantola from the Center for European Studies at the University of Helsinki.

In addition to the 2050 carbon neutrality target, the Commission’s Green Development Plan includes an intermediate target of reducing emissions by 55 percent by 2030. Emissions reduction is aimed at reforming the emissions trading system and strengthening carbon sinks through land use legislation.

At Von der Leye’s press conference in the summer of 2021. AOP

– Given van der Leyen’s background, even researchers were surprised by how strong a climate policy push the commission had from the start, says the political science professor. Tapio Rooney from Tampere University.

Van der Leyen’s commission will be primarily remembered for its handling of the coronavirus crisis and the war in Ukraine. During crises The Commission and Member States have increased their powers Parliament and van der Leyen have given a face to EU unity.

– Each commission is at the mercy of its own era. Raunio says he couldn’t foresee the coronavirus crisis or war in Ukraine when van der Leyen took over as head of the commission.

van der Leyen and Zelensky in Kyiv in November 2023. AOP

A battle for legacy

Of course, van der Leyen has not escaped criticism. In addition to policy measures such as the stimulus package and green transition, he has been criticized for centralizing power.

– Now we are fighting for the legacy of this commission. Has the green growth agenda gone too far or not? Kandola assesses what kind of agreements on immigration with third countries such as Tunisia and how they have been made.

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– He has been a presidential leader, concentrating power on himself and keeping the strings firmly in his hands. Criticisms related to democracy, openness and transparency of leadership styles will certainly be seen from researchers over time.

Von der Leyen delivered the State of the Union address in Strasbourg in autumn 2023. AOP

The ongoing European elections have been marked by debate over security policy and the rise of the far right. Will van der Leyen’s re-election mean a continuation of the Commission’s ranks or is he willing to do anything to keep his position?

– Beneath all the noise on the surface, he strongly pushed forward an egalitarian policy to which he seems to have a personal commitment, but not necessarily in relation to climate change, Kandola reflects.

– However, he is a pragmatic politician who needs a majority in the European Parliament to sway on most issues. He must make concessions taking into account the goals of various political groups and member states.

Both Kantola and Raunio believe that the next parliament will still rely on the cooperation of the EPP, the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Liberals.

– The big question mark here, says Raunio, is how willing van der Leyen and the EPP are to cooperate with the far right in general.

Von der Leyen with EPP leader Manfred Weber (left) and the leadership of Germany’s Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists in Berlin this year. AOP

Van der Leyen’s youth and earlier political career have been used as sources The Telegraph, Critic And Financial Times Articles.

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