Ursula von der Leyen, Dark Horse candidate, wins top EU job

  • >>Matina Stevis-Gridneff, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-07-17 13:44:56 BdST

Elected European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reacts during a news conference after the vote on her election at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Jul 16, 2019. REUTERS

Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, who emerged only recently as an unexpected compromise candidate to be the European Union’s top bureaucrat, on Tuesday clinched her selection, winning approval by the European Parliament after steering left from her usual centre-right position.

The first woman ever chosen to lead the European Commission and the 32,000-member staff at the heart of the European project, von der Leyen will take on the role as the bloc is increasingly caught in global strategic, trade and ideological struggles involving Russia, China, the United States, Iran and other nations, and while it faces internal divisions stoked by rising nationalism.

She will represent the European Union, 28 countries and more than half a billion people that together form the richest collective in the world, in major events like the Group of 20 meetings. She will be tasked with advancing the bloc’s interests in trade talks with President Donald Trump and other world leaders, and she will oversee Brexit, and its aftermath.

Von der Leyen, 60, who will begin her five-year term as European Commission president in November, won the office after an acrimonious nomination process. European Union heads of government had agreed to nominate a president from among the candidates proposed by the political blocs in the European Parliament, but they scrapped that deal when the two top contenders faced implacable opposition.

After days of intense negotiations among European leaders in June and early July, they settled instead on von der Leyen, the German defense minister who had not been seen as a candidate, and sent the nomination on to the European Parliament. A member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, she won support to her left by promising a minimum wage and a path to a carbon-neutral Europe.

Inevitably, many in the Parliament, the only directly elected institution in the European Union, saw von der Leyen’s nomination as a cynical deal between France and Germany, an arrangement that smacked of the Old Europe that the union’s newer and smaller members resent.

She was voted in by a thin majority of 383 of 733 votes cast.

© 2019 New York Times News Service