Ursula von der Leyen has actually been nominated because that the european Commission presidency | Christoph Soeder/dpa

BERLIN — A polyglot Brussels indigenous who reared seven children and earned a medical degree on the side prior to storming come the top of German politics.

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News the this Wunderfrau — aka German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen — could end up being the Commission’s following president left European fundings abuzz on Tuesday. “Finally some good news” to be the general tenor. Who needs a Spitzenkandidat when you can have a Homecoming Queen?

At an initial glance, the affable 60-year-old minister with a camera-ready laugh looks to be a perfect fit, v the requisite experience, politics pedigree and also personality to manage the EU’s toughest job.


And yet a nagging concern remains: Is she too an excellent to it is in true?

In the German capital, the prize is clear.

“The Bundeswehr’s problem is catastrophic” — Rupert Scholz, former German defense minister

“Von der Leyen is our weakest minister. That’s apparently sufficient to end up being Commission president,” previous European Parliament president Martin Schulz seethed in a tweet Tuesday evening.

Though Schulz is a society Democrat, his analysis of the minister’s record is common by countless of von der Leyen’s fellow Christian Democrats, though many are wake up to criticize her publicly. Instead, they suggest to the state that the German military.

“The Bundeswehr’s condition is catastrophic,” Rupert Scholz, who served as defense minister under Helmut Kohl, wrote last week prior to von der Leyen to be nominated to the EU’s top post. “The whole defense capacity of the federal Republic is suffering, which is totally irresponsible.”


Among friends and also foes alike, von der Leyen’s stewardship of the defense ministry, which she has headed because 2014, is concerned as a failure.


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Von der Leyen has been blamed, in some quarters, because that letting the Bundeswehr autumn into a state the disrepair | Sean Gallup/Getty Images


“There is neither sufficient personnel nor material, and often one confronts shortage top top shortage,” Hans-Peter Bartels, a social Democrat MP fee with monitoring the Bundeswehr because that parliament, finish in a report published in ~ the end of January. “The troops are much from being completely equipped.”

In addition to problems surrounding the German military’s readiness, von der Leyen’s ministry likewise faces one investigation right into suspected wrongdoing bordering its use of outside consultants, consisting of Accenture and McKinsey.

The Bundestag, the German parliament, is at this time holding hearings into the affair, consisting of accusations the von der Leyen’s office circumvented publicly procurement rules in giving contracts worth numerous euros to the firms. Those hearings have taken a dramatic revolve in recent days as testimony from vital witnesses appeared to confirm suspicions of organized corruption in ~ the ministry.

Von der Leyen is also under fire because that agreeing come refurbish the German navy’s three-masted training ship, the Gorch Fock. The overhaul of the ship, christened in 1958, has ended up costing an ext than 10 time what was initially projected.

Though von der Leyen has actually acknowledged make mistakes follow me the way, she has ignored recurring demands indigenous the the contrary benches for her resignation.


Even despite von der Leyen doesn’t have countless friends in Berlin, the ones she does have actually matter. The minister is close to Wolfgang Schäuble, the prominent president that the German parliament. For more than a decade, the two met because that breakfast once a week, a legacy that only ended when Schäuble ended up being Bundestag president.

Her most crucial ally, however, is Angela Merkel, who von der Leyen has actually stuck by v thick and also thin. Merkel has actually returned the commitment by leave von der Leyen in place regardless of mounting problems at the defense ministry — and by backing she for the the supervisory board leadership.

Von der Leyen blamed plenty of of the troubles facing the armed forces on she predecessors.

Von der Leyen has actually never worked for the EU, but she is no stranger to Brussels, wherein she spent many of her childhood. Serious Albrecht, her father, worked for the european Coal and also Steel Community and the European financial Community, precursors come the EU, before moving back to Germany wherein he gone after a job in local politics. He ended up being premier of lower Saxony in 1976, a place he held until 1990 (he shed reelection that year come Gerhard Schröder, who would go on to come to be German chancellor).

Though von der Leyen to be born right into a politics family, she was a so late bloomer in pursuing her very own career in politics. That was just after she had finished her medical studies and also lived for numerous years in the U.S. V her household that she collection her sights top top a political career in Germany.

After climbing through the ranking in lower Saxony, von der Leyen joined Merkel’s very first Cabinet in 2005, heading the Ministry because that Family, Seniors, Women and Youth. She became labor minister in Merkel’s 2nd Cabinet in 2009 prior to taking end the defense to adjust in 2014, becoming the very first woman to hold that office.


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Von der Leyen was once mooted together a potential successor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel | Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images


Her greatest failure in ~ the ministry may have remained in not winning end the officer corps and also troops. Together a mrs in a male-dominated universe, von der Leyen was never ever going come have straightforward task. However current and former aides describe her management style as distant and also defensive. She surrounded herself at the ministry v a small group of aides who kept tight regulate on the circulation of information. Numerous interactions v rank-and-file troops were in the type of photo-ops, which often showed the minister in dramatic poses alongside military equipment.

She offended many service members by saying publicly in 2017, after ~ the exploration of a right-wing extremist in the ranks, that the Bundeswehr experienced from “weak leadership at miscellaneous levels.”

Such episodes opened up up von der Leyen come criticism the she was much more interested in she own image than backing the troops.

If so, she had plenty of reason for concern. In 2015, well prior to the procurement scandal erupted, von der Leyen confronted plagiarism accusations in link with the thesis she wrote when she learned medicine.


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Will Ursula von der Leyen sink or swimming in Brussels’ optimal job? | Michele Tantussi/Getty Images


Von der Leyen was luckier. Though a university commission confirmed that von der Leyen had actually failed come properly point out the sources for lot of the product in she dissertation, it determined that the omissions no intentional and also didn’t weaken her central thesis.

Though von der Leyen is an engaging speaker and a favourite on Germany’s talkshow circuit, the perpetual noise of scandal surrounding her and also her ministry has eroded her ratings amongst voters. When one that Germany’s most well-known politicians, she fell out that the height 10 last year.

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That’s simply one reason her party would certainly be much more than happy to check out her walk to Brussels. An additional is that her leave would open up a an essential slot in Merkel’s Cabinet. If all goes follow to plan, the chancellor would certainly fill the short article with she hand-picked successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who flourished Merkel as CDU leader in December. Von der Leyen’s exit would market Kramp-Karrenbauer a perfect possibility to prove herself in a large job.