Von der Leyen becomes first female EU executive chief with narrow win


STRASBOURG – Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen (picture) was elected to be the next president of the European Commission on Tuesday with a slim majority, reported Xinhua news agency.

She made history as the first female chief executive of the European Union. The slim majority also helped avert a political crisis for the world’s largest trading bloc.

Of the 733 votes cast by members of the European Parliament, she won 383 votes, only 9 votes more than the necessary 374-vote majority. Had her nomination – without objection from any of the 28 EU member state governments – been shot down, Brussels would be deep in uncharted political waters.

Instead, the mother-of-seven and Germany’s first female defence minister – who said ahead of the vote she would resign her office – thanked lawmakers with a smile and said “The task ahead of us humbles me. It’s a big responsibility and my work starts now.”

Her election was preceded by good news on Tuesday as a barrage of politicians, including senior EU lawmakers, threw their support behind her in Strasbourg. But the vote in the seat of the EU legislature was a secret ballot, potentially enabling lawmakers to break from official lines.

Von der Leyen was born and grew up in Brussels, Belgium, where her father once served as a senior officer in the EU. She will, upon taking office in November, oversee the EU’s executive branch of around 32,000 staff in her birthplace and represent the 500-million-strong economy in the world.

A trained gynaecologist, she was fluent in English, French and German and she made a point of that by speaking the three languages in one speech on Tuesday morning to EU lawmakers, in a last bid to win their support.