Ursula von der Leyen – The first woman to become President of the European Commission

The German Christian Democrat Ursula von der Leyen, a close friend of Chancellor Angela Merkel, was narrowly elected Tuesday evening as the President of the European Commission. The first woman to take up this post, she will take over from Jean-Claude Juncker on November 1st.


Appointed in early July by the 28 heads of state and government of the Union, Ms. von der Leyen obtained 383 votes to 327, with 22 abstentions and a zero ballot, 733 votes cast, announced the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli.

To be elected, she had to collect an absolute majority of 747 deputies, or 374 votes. The German leader counted in particular on the 443 votes of the three largest groups of the European Parliament, namely the conservatives of the EPP (182 elected), the socialists of the S & D (153 elected) and the liberal-centrists of Renew Europe (108 elected ) to reach this threshold.


Ursula von der Leyen


The result, a narrow victory by 9 votes only, suggests that she suffered a significant number of defections in these three groups, who had assured her of their support.

“In democracy, the majority is the majority,” said Ms. von der Leyen, when questioned by the press about his poorer than expected results.

Ms. von der Leyen’s speech’s key points:

Having identified the collective need for “a healthy planet as our greatest challenge and responsibility,” Ms von der Leyen proposed bolder emissions targets, with a reduction of 50% to 55% by 2030 and committed to submit a plan for a “Green Deal for Europe” and a European Climate Law within her first 100 days in office. She also announced plans for sustainable European investment (also through the partial conversion of EIB funds into a “climate bank”) to provide €1 trillion in investments within a decade.

Ms von der Leyen also stressed that the EU must establish an economy that serves the people. In order for this to happen however, “everyone needs to share the burden” – including those tech giants that conduct their business (and should continue to do so) in Europe, yet do not repay the people of Europe for their access to EU human and social capital.

Reiterating her commitment for a gender-balanced College of Commissioners during her term, she also highlighted that violence against women has to be tackled decisively; she would therefore seek to define violence against women as a crime in the European treaties, in parallel to completing the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention.

Ms von der Leyen declared her commitment to rule of law as a European value, announcing that she intends to establish an EU-wide monitoring mechanism in parallel to existing measures. She emphasised that these European values also include a duty to save lives at sea and should translate into a humane border policy. She stated her support for a “new pact on migration & asylum” and Dublin Regulation reform, adding that she intends to ensure that Frontex border guards number 10,000 not by 2027, but by 2024, and that all countries should shoulder their fair share of the burden based on the principle of European solidarity.

On the matter of European democracy, Ms von der Leyen announced a two-year Conference for Europe as of 2020, in which citizens will take a leading and active role. She also emphasised the need for the Spitzenkandidaten system to be strengthened and that transnational lists should be reconsidered in future European elections. She also declared her full support for a right of initiative for the European Parliament, committing to put forward a legislative proposal in response to every resolution that is passed with a majority of Parliament’s constituent members.