Who is Ursula von der Leyen?

How is a candidate for President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen perceived on the German political scene and what about her relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel? Read few comments.

Ursula Von der Leyen, Candidate for President of the EC. Credit: http://www.BMVg.de

Josef JanningHead of ECFR Berlin Office, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

Von der Leyen has been one of Angela Merkel’s closest allies over the years, but also somewhat of a rival. She was always believed to lust for the Chancellory.

She is rather respected than popular in her own party, and does not command a large followership there. In government, she is the longest serving cabinet member next to Angela Merkel.

As minister of defence she has had a tough time — as many of her predecessors had. This is a difficult position to have, not very popular in the public and always at risk of failure.
Her record is solid but not overwhelming.

Personally, she is a very committed and serious person, a work horse, ascetic and controlled. She displays a natural authority, defying her small stature.

Matthias Dilling, Departmental Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Department of Politics and IR and Magdalen College, University of Oxford

I think a leading EU position was the only promotion that was still possible in Ursula von der Leyen’s political career after holding several important cabinet positions since 2005, leading at different points in time the Department of Health, Labor and Social Affairs, and Defence.

She has been loyal to Merkel over the years, having been an important ally to her modernization of the CDU in the 2000s. At some point, some even speculated whether she might succeed Merkel as chancellor. Yet, both Merkel’s popularity around the 2013 election and von der Leyen’s performance as Minister of Defence after that election meant that this window of opportunity closed. Her network at the Land level of the CDU, which is still very important within the party, would probably also not have been strong enough to secure her party’s nomination.

The move from Berlin to Brussels seems logical at this stage. Given the criticism against her leadership of the Department of Defence, it has been far from certain whether she would have stayed as a cabinet minister if the CDU enters the next federal government.

In terms of the credentials for her new role, Von der Leyen has got the senior executive experience many people have criticized Weber for not having. She has also been clearly committed to European integration, repeatedly speaking out in favor of a more united and integrated Europe in the past.

Marcel Dirsus, Political Scientist, Non-Resident Fellow Institute for Security Policy, Kiel University

Ursula von der Leyen is a controversial politician at home due to a variety of scandals in her ministry and the general state of the Bundeswehr, but the job of Minister of Defence is also notoriously difficult in Germany.

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