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EU’s Prime Decide: Too Pious for Feminists, Too Feminist for Conservatives


BERLIN — She is a gynecologist with seven youngsters who is aware of nearly all the things about fighter jets. She says grace earlier than dinner and believes in homosexual adoption. She loves america and desires of a United States of Europe sometime.

Some feminists are aggravated by her piety. Most conservatives are aggravated by her feminism.

“That woman,” they sigh.

That girl is Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s protection minister and a longtime ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who this week was unexpectedly nominated as the subsequent president of the European Fee, the European Union’s highly effective government physique.

If confirmed by the European Parliament later this month, she would be the first girl to carry the highest job within the 28-nation bloc. For now, the result of that vote has been clouded by greater than the same old grumblings in regards to the lack of transparency within the bargaining that produced her nomination.

Within the juggernaut of horse buying and selling over the European Union’s prime jobs, Ms. von der Leyen emerged because the shock winner from days of back-room haggling, a certified however compromise candidate to interrupt what threatened to grow to be an insurmountable impasse.

Her choice has met intense criticism at dwelling, the place, having served 14 years alongside Ms. Merkel, and more than five in Germany’s unloved ministry of defense, Ms. von der Leyen was not notably well-liked.

However, nearly everybody agrees on one factor.

“Her European credentials are rock-solid,” stated Nathalie Tocci, particular adviser to Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s excessive consultant for overseas affairs, and the director of the Rome-based Worldwide Affairs Institute.

5-foot-three, the daughter of a German politician who labored within the European establishments on the founding stage, Ms. von der Leyen, 60, was born in Brussels and grew up talking French and English.

It was at school that she stated she developed “a lifelong internal love for the phenomenon that is Europe.”

On the peak of Europe’s debt disaster, Ms. von der Leyen argued in favor of nearer political union, whilst many in her nation shrunk again from the thought of a larger federalization of debt.

Later, as protection minister, she urged for an bold integration of nationwide protection buildings and finally a “European Army,” which stays a distant dream.

“My aim is a United States of Europe — along the lines of the federal states of Switzerland, Germany or the U.S.A.,” she informed the German journal Der Spiegel in 2011.

In 2016, she repeated this imaginative and prescient in one other interview: “I imagine the Europe of my children or grandchildren not as a loose union of states trapped by national interests.”

By placing her identify ahead, Europe’s heads of state have despatched a transparent sign, stated Guntram Wolff of Bruegel, a Brussels-based suppose tank. “The message is: We don’t want to appease the populists,” he stated. “We don’t want a half-hearted Europe; we want a courageous Europe.”

However others warn that the rise of nationalism threatens European cohesion and has made the prospect of surrendering sovereignty on delicate points like taxation and nationwide safety even tougher. Individuals are afraid of dropping their nationwide identities and European integration must be conscious of that.

Ms. von der Leyen, who as soon as hosted a Syrian refugee in her dwelling, acknowledges this.

“You can’t win against nationalism with internationalism,” she informed The New York Occasions in January. “You need the nation, too.”

At a time when issues about social injustice and fears of migration have fueled populist and nationalist actions throughout Europe, Ms. von der Leyen brings an intriguing mixture of conservative and liberal values to the desk.

Her supporters say she was a transformative minister in her dwelling state of Decrease Saxony who gave paid parental go away to German males and lobbied onerous for boardroom quotas.

Later, as protection minister, they word, she fought onerous for navy price range will increase and finally oversaw an expanding role for German troops, from Mali to Lithuania.

Her critics fault her for failing to sufficiently modernize Germany’s military. Additionally they level to a parliamentary fee that’s at the moment investigating procurement practices in her ministry. She herself could should testify later this yr.

However as Ulrike Franke, a protection professional on the European Council on International Relations, defined, Ms. von der Leyen “came into a difficult job in a difficult ministry at a difficult time.” He added, “That the budget didn’t increase quite as much as she was hoping for, and as many external voices demanded, was largely outside her control.”

Regardless of her detractors, Ms. von der Leyen instructions a hanging degree of assist from very totally different quarters, even in a fragmenting Europe.

Her outspoken European idealism appears to align much less along with her personal extra cautious chancellor than with President Emmanuel Macron of France, who has grown more and more annoyed with Berlin’s reluctance to assist him fulfill his imaginative and prescient of deeper European integration.

In actual fact, Ms. Merkel has made it no secret that the nomination was not her thought, whereas Mr. Macron, who put ahead Ms. Von der Leyen’s identify, was visibly delighted.

So, apparently, have been Polish nationalists, typically fiercely anti-German and euroskeptic, who’ve come to see her as a staunch ally within the standoff with Russia and respect her conventional household values.

“She is a conservative and she is knowledgeable about national security, which plays well in Eastern Europe,” stated Ms. Tocci, who has skilled Ms. von der Leyen close-up in numerous conferences.

“But she also has a background as social affairs minister, which matters at a time when the European Union needs to find a way to get closer to its citizens,” Ms. Tocci added.

Ms. von der Leyen was a minister in Decrease Saxony when Ms. Merkel introduced her to Berlin in 2005. She rapidly grew to become a nationwide star, overtaking many in her occasion who had served years in hopes of an identical profession vault.

Her identify was as soon as floated as a doable federal president or perhaps a successor of Ms. Merkel herself. However her enchantment has waned over time, at the least in Germany, the place an opinion poll by public broadcaster ARD discovered that 56 % of respondents didn’t suppose she was a good selection for the job of Europe’s prime bureaucrat.

“If you’re a woman and you trying to get things done, you’re going to make enemies,” Ms. Tocci stated.

Certainly, Ms. von der Leyen is not any stranger to sharp and typically very private criticism. A few of Ms. von der Leyen’s most vocal critics have been males who’ve been much less profitable than her.

“Von der Leyen is our weakest minister. That’s apparently enough to become Commission president,” huffed Martin Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament who led Germany’s Social Democrats to a humiliating defeat in 2017.

She has needed to justify herself endlessly about combining a high-powered profession with being the mom of seven youngsters.

“Why did she have seven children when she is never home?” Doris Schröder-Köpf, ex-wife of the previous Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, mused in 2006.

Ms. von der Leyen has spoken in regards to the challenges confronted by liberal democracy, a key pillar of the European undertaking.

“Perhaps we as democrats have believed for too long that democracy is so powerful, so convincing, so brilliant that its victory march cannot be stopped,” she informed Der Spiegel in 2016. “Democracy can go to the dogs if we don’t care for it.”

She could now be the one defending Europe’s pursuits earlier than President Trump, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and China’s President Xi Jinping.

She has made some powerful noises on all three fronts already.

“America is not its presidents,” she stated about trans-Atlantic relations, scarcely hiding her dislike of Mr. Trump, whereas talking in regards to the rising “alienation” with Mr. Putin and warning towards being naïve about China’s rise and intentions.

Europe, she informed The New York Occasions aboard her ministry’s aircraft in January, has had a sequence of get up calls. Now it must act.

“Our crisis was in 2016 right after the Brexit referendum and when President Trump was elected and said NATO is obsolete,” she stated.

“This was the point when Europe understood that it has to be able to tackle its own problems, problems that are all around us, and to work on a Europe that protects, a Europe that defends, a Europe that is able to act. That’s what is essential.”



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Katrin Bennhold

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