She’s the first woman to lead the EU
In December 2019, Ursula von der Leyen replaced Jean-Claude Juncker as the president of the European Commission, becoming the first woman to serve in the important role. “For me, it’s like coming home,” she said of her role after being newly appointed. Brussels-born von der Leyen mainly oversees Brexit negotiations (which are currently still ongoing), new EU laws, the handling of trade deals, and the enforcing of rules, too. In short: she’s responsible for legislation affecting more than 700 million Europeans.
Within days of taking office, she made one thing very clear: she backs the fight against climate change. By promising a “European Green Deal” which will see net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
In December 2019, Ursula von der Leyen replaced Jean-Claude Juncker as the president of the European Commission.
© Thierry Monasse
She stands strong on equality for all
Before taking up her current role, von der Leyen was the former German defence minister. Serving from 2005 to 2019, she was Angela Merkel’s longest standing cabinet member. Upon taking up her new role, she selected a team of 27 EU commissioners, including 12 women at the top table.
In September 2020, in her first state of the union speech as EU commissioner, the 62-year-old fervently spoke out against anti-LGBTQIA+ policies in Poland. “Being yourself is not your ideology,” Von der Leyen told MEPs in the European parliament in Brussels. “It’s your identity,” she said. “So I want to be crystal clear – LGBTQI-free zones are humanity free zones. And they have no place in our union.”
Serving from 2005 to 2019, von der Leyen was Angela Merkel’s longest standing cabinet member.
© Volker Hartmann
She’s the daughter of a prominent politician
She’s no stranger to the impact holding such an important role can have on someone’s life. Growing up in Brussels, von der Leyen attended the European School – an elite multilingual (she’s fluent in both French and English) school for the children of diplomats and EU bureaucrats. Take note: Boris Johnson attended the same school a few years after von der Leyen.
Von der Leyen’s father, Ernst Albrecht, was a senior Commission official in Belgium in the ’50s, before becoming a politician. Her mother, Heidi-Adele Albrecht, had a university doctorate and actively encouraged academic success. As a family, including her five siblings, they moved to Germany when she was 13-years-old.
von der Leyen with her parents, Ernst and Heidi-Adele Albrecht.
© ullstein bild
She loves London
She studied economics at London’s LSE. During the time, she went by the name Rose Ladson to protect herself as German politicians were actively being targeted by Red Army Faction leftist militants. She picked Rose because her family nicknamed her “little rose”.
She’s since told Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper that “London was for me, then, the epitome of modernity: freedom, the joy of life, trying everything”. Apparently, she loved punk and rock concerts, and going out partying, telling the publication that she spent “significantly more time in the bars of Soho and in record stores in Camden than in the library”.
She has a reputation for being a workaholic (while raising seven children)
Believe it or not, von der Leyen has seven children: David (aged 33), Sophie (31), Donata (28), twins Victoria and Johanna (26), Egmont (22), and Gracia (21). She’s married to Heiko von der Leyen, a professor of medicine and the CEO of a medical engineering company. The couple met after von der Leyen returned to Germany to study, while part of the university choir.
When von der Leyen had her first child at 28, becoming a “working mother” wasn’t considered a welcome choice in society. According to The Times, upon hearing the news that she was expecting, a senior doctor said: “Frau von der Leyen: pregnant? Are you too lazy to work?” After moving to California in 1992, where her husband carried out medical research at Stanford, she was reportedly taken aback by the active role American fathers played in raising their children. When the growing family returned to Germany four years later, von der Leyen made a move into politics, like her father. During her time as a federal minister for family affairs from 2005, she implemented what she called “conservative feminism” by introducing several reforms, including “maternity leave” as “parental leave” – making it abundantly clear that raising a family is down to both parents, not just the mother.
von der Leyen with her husband, Heiko von der Leyen, and their seven children.
© JOCHEN LUEBKE
Currently, von der Leyen sleeps in a small studio adjoining her office at the Commission HQ rather than making a home in Brussels. Instead, she returns to her family home in Beinhorn, a small village in Germany, on the weekends where she spends time with her children and pursues her passion for horse riding, too.
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