Great Woman Who United Europe Like Never Before
The President of the European Commission
The first woman to serve in the role, which is responsible for legislation affecting more than 450 million Europeans
In the four years since she became European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen has mostly been praised by Brussels insiders and top officials around the world. Many say her record – which has put the EU significantly closer to becoming a coherent United States of Europe – already qualifies her as the best Commission president since the celebrated French politician Jacques Delors three decades ago. A 99-year-old Henry Kissinger recently acknowledged that she is Europe’s undisputed leader.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, VDL corralled the 27-member bloc’s health ministers to procure vaccines together rather than separately. Even though the U.K. beat the bloc to dispersing the vaccine by two weeks, the EU’s solidarity enabled a cost-effective and even-handed rollout. The EU’s vaccination rate is higher than the United States’, and the EU is by far the largest exporter of vaccines in the world. to developing countries. VDL’s Commission then shattered the taboo of joint borrowing – a practice vilified by none more than Germany’s Christian Democrats – by incurring more than 700 billion euros in debt to pay for a pandemic recovery fund. The fund was the largest stimulus package ever financed in Europe, designed to jumpstart the beleaguered economy in ways that would make Europe more digital and greener.
Likewise, the Commission secured 18 billion euros in aid for Ukraine this year, on top of ten rounds of unprecedented sanctions against Russia. VDL has been a vocal, steadfast supporter of Ukraine, marshalling allegiance from the bloc, much to the satisfaction of the Biden administration. Moreover, the EU has opened Europe’s borders to 8 million Ukrainian refugees, bolstered common security, negotiated common energy supplies, and nailed down a Northern Ireland compromise with the U.K.
Under VDL’s reign, the EU jacked up its climate target to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 by building out renewable energies, decreasing energy demand, and phasing out fossil fuels. The EU has exploited the energy crisis to change course and outstrip its 2030 renewable power target of 40 percent. Also, since 2020, the long-ineffective carbon pricing system finally packs more bite than bark: the price per ton for industry, energy generation, and aviation has quintupled, and buildings, shipping, and transportation fuels will join the emissions trading regime in coming years. And the EU agreed last year to phase out new combustion engines for passenger cars from 2035 onward. Next up is a green industrial plan meant to match U.S. President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.
Ursula von der Leyen discreetly considers second term as European Commission president. The president of the European Commission “will be 66 years old at the end of her first term. It is an exhausting job and she is not sure she wants to go back for another five years,” said a diplomat. In fact, she has laid the groundwork to be a candidate for her own succession after the European elections, which are scheduled for spring 2024. She has naturally begun floating the idea to those she cannot do without to secure her appointment – specifically Paris and Berlin, to whom she owes her 2019 nomination.