1st woman — mother of 7 and Merkel disciple — is nominated to lead EU’s executive commission
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is in line to become the new president of the European Union’s Executive Commission — its first female leader, BBC reported.
Von der Leyen was a surprise choice to lead the executive body of the European Union, which promotes its general interest, and she is a strong supporter of closer European cooperation.
Her nomination follows days of difficult negotiations, the news outlet reported, and it must be approved by the European Parliament.
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Germany’s defense minister since 2013, she has been a fixture in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet over Merkel's nearly 14 years in power.
Merkel said, “For me it is also a good sign that a woman will have this office for the first time.” She noted that, if approved, von der Leyen will also be the first German head of the European executive in 52 years.
Merkel said Tuesday that von der Leyen “enjoys great confidence” among European leaders, pointing to her involvement in a NATO force in the Aegean Sea during the migrant influx, Germany’s help in patrolling the airspace of Baltic countries and her commitment to Europe.
She was long viewed as a potential successor to Merkel, but has had a tough tenure at the head of the notoriously difficult Defense Ministry and had long since faded out of contention by the time Merkel stepped down last year as leader of her center-right Christian Democratic Union Party.
Von der Leyen, 60, was born in Brussels and spent her early years in the Belgian capital. She speaks fluent English and French, having studied at the London School of Economics in the 1970s and lived in Stanford, Calif., from 1992 to 1996.
Von der Leyen — a doctor and mother of seven — is the daughter of a former governor of her home state of Lower Saxony, Ernst Albrecht, who before that was a senior European civil servant. She has been a deputy leader of Merkel’s CDU since 2010.
Von der Leyen played a significant role in modernizing the image of her party during the Merkel years, over which it dominated the political middle ground. As minister for families in Merkel’s first Cabinet from 2005 to 2009, she introduced benefits encouraging fathers to look after their young children.
Von der Leyen then served as labor minister until 2013, when she became Germany’s first female defense minister.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.