Who is Ursula von der Leyen? The EU Chief agrees on a new Northern Ireland protocol
On February 27, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen revealed a new Northern Ireland Protocol in the aftermath of Brexit.
The two leaders revealed the Windsor Framework, which Sunak said will promote parity between the UK and Northern Ireland in accessing goods that are “quintessentially British”, as well as medicines, and more.
Von der Leyen shared that the agreement was a step towards a stronger EU-UK relationship, with the two nations “standing shoulder to shoulder, now into the future”.
But who exactly is Ursula von der Leyen? Here is everything we know about her personal and professional life.
Who is Ursula von der Leyen?
Ursula von der Leyen, 64, is a German politician who became the European Commission’s president in 2019.
She was born and raised in Brussels to German parents. Her father was one of the first European civil servants in the European Commission’s history.
Von der Leyen and her family moved from Brussels to Hanover when she was 13 as her father’s career progressed, and he eventually became the state prime minister of Lower Saxony.
In 1977, she started studying economics at the University of Gottingen. However, amid communist terrorism fears in West Germany, her family was warned that the Red Army Faction was planning to kidnap her, for being the daughter of a prominent politician, so in 1978 Von der Leyen fled to London.
In London, she spent more than a year in hiding, living under the protection of Scotland Yard under the name Rose Ladson. During her time in the UK, she continued her studies at the London School of Economics.
She returned to Germany a year later but had a security team protecting her for several years.
In 1980, she embarked on a course to study medicine at Hanover Medical School, before specialising in women’s health.
Later, in 1986, she married fellow physician Heiko con der Leyen, who is descended from a wealthy family of silk merchants. The two initially met while singing in the choir of the University of Gottingen.
In the years that followed, the pair welcomed seven children, which led to Ursula spending a few years as a housewife in Stanford, California, while her husband worked at Stanford University.
When did Ursula von der Leyen’s political career begin?
Ursula von der Leyen’s political career began in 1990, when she joined Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party.
She became a more active member in 1996, upon returning from California.
In 2003, Von der Leyen was elected to the Parliament of Lower Saxony and worked alongside Angela Merkel, who was the party’s chairwoman at the time.
The politician continued her career in Germany by serving as Merkel’s Minster of Family Affairs and Youth between 2005 and 2009, becoming a member of Germany’s federal government in 2009, and working as Germany’s very first Minister of Defence between 2013 and 2019.
In 2019, she became the President of the European Commission; the first female to hold the title.
What are some of her political legacies?
Von der Leyen is responsible for a number of policies in Germany, including the paid parental-leave scheme Eltemzeit and the Child Advancement Act, which reserved 4.3 billion euros for the creation of childcare structures throughout Germany.
She also unsuccessfully campaigned for a statutory quota for female participation in the supervisory boards of German companies, requiring them to be at least 20 per cent by 2018 and 40 per cent female by 2023. While the quota was never met, gender-equality organisations praised Von der Leyen for her efforts and vision.
Von der Leyen also spoke up in support of equal adoption rights for same-sex couples and even went as far as voting against her parliamentary group’s majority to support the introduction of same-sex marriage in Germany.