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

STRASBOURG, France, July 16 (Xinhua) -- Germany's Ursula von der Leyen was elected to be the next president of the European Commission on Tuesday with a slim majority.

Ursula von der Leyen.jpg

File photo: VCG

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.

The European Parliament currently comprises 747 lawmakers, so the threshold needed to be elected was 374 votes, more than half of its component members.

Of the 733 votes casted by members of the European Parliament on Tuesday evening, 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 defense minister - who said ahead 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 birth place 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. 


Von der Leyen's election marks a milestone for women in EU politics, and she promised in the speech she would lead by example in gender equality: "I will ensure full gender equality in my College of Commissioners. If Member States do not propose enough female Commissioners, I will not hesitate to ask for new names."

Each of the 28 EU member states is entitled to one European Commissioner, responsible for a specific portfolio. 

"Since 1958 there have been 183 Commissioners. Only 35 were women. That is less than 20 percent. We represent half of our population. We want our fair share," Von der Leyen said.


Von der Leyen also highlighted the combat against climate change in her Tuesday morning speech, saying "I want Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050" and vowing to "put forward the first ever European Climate Law which will set the 2050 target into law."

She will put forward a Green Deal for Europe in her first 100 days in office,  Von der Leyen said.

She also promised leadership from the EU to lead international negotiations to increase the level of ambition of other major economies by 2021.

But her seemingly ambitious words failed to woo the Greens in the European Parliament, who said after her speech that they would not vote for her as von der Leyen's promise didn't meet their expectations.


Von der Leyen also sent thinly-veiled warnings to tech giants in Europe, asking them to "share the burden" of taxation.

"When the tech giants are making huge profits in Europe, this is fine because we are an open market and we like competition," she said, adding that "it is not acceptable that they make profits, but they are barely paying any taxes because they play our tax system."

A EU-wide tax scheme on tech giants, mostly companies headquartered in the United States, have stalled because of resistance from member states such as Ireland, but latest tax laws from France have recently reignited the debate and stoked threats of retaliation from Washington.