She is the first woman to head the EU Commission: the European Parliament has elected Ursula von der Leyen as the new Commission President. The result for the CDU politician was close.
The outgoing German Defence Minister received the necessary absolute majority in the European Parliament. She will thus be able to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxembourg on 1 November.
The CDU politician received 383 votes in a secret ballot in Strasbourg. The absolute majority required was 374. A total of 327 parliamentarians voted against her.
First woman at the top
“I feel so honored,” von der Leyen explained in a first reaction. “These were definitely the most intense two weeks of my political life.” In response to her narrow lead of nine votes, she said that in democracy a majority is a majority. Two weeks ago, immediately after her nomination by the heads of state and government, she did not have a majority yet. She offered the EU Parliament a close cooperation during her mandate.
Von der Leyen is the first woman to head the EU Commission. Over the next five years, she will be able to help determine the political priorities of the international community of more than 500 million inhabitants. Von der Leyen has more than 30,000 employees in the Commission, which makes legislative proposals, among other things.
Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that von der Leyen would become a convinced and convincing European Commission President. “She will now tackle the challenges we face as the European Union with great vigour”. The SPD leadership also congratulated her and demanded “more social balance in Europe, a decisive policy for climate and environmental protection and a sustainable economy with strong employee rights”.
Most recently, the Social Democrats signalled that a majority of this group would vote in favour of von der Leyen. The 16 German SPD members, however, had announced that they would vote against. Von der Leyen’s own group, the European People’s Party (EPP), supported her as did the Liberals. The Greens, the Left and right-wing populists wanted to vote against her.
The former EU Commission President Juncker congratulated his successor in a trilingual tweet. “Finally, the first woman is at the head of the EU Commission,” he wrote, “This job is a huge task and a challenge. I am sure you will be a great president. Welcome home!”
Von der Leyen emphasises the unity of Europe
In the morning von der Leyen had asked for support in a passionate speech in the European Parliament. At the head of the Commission she would “defend the unity of Europe against attempts at division and global challenges”.
She said the fight against climate change was an important issue. She wanted to make Europe the “first climate-neutral continent in the world” by 2050. She announced a “Green Deal for Europe” in her first 100 days in office. She also cited refugee policy, digitisation and fair company taxation as further challenges.
Criticism of nomination
Before the vote, many MEPs had criticised the fact that von der Leyen had not run as a “top candidate” for the European parliament elections in May. The EU heads of state and government had not been able to agree on the “top candidates” Manfred Weber of the EPP and Frans Timmermans of the Social Democrats and instead surprisingly presented von der Leyen as a candidate.