Von der Leyen: The modern conservative tipped to be Germany′s next president | Current Affairs | DW | 02.06.2010
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Current Affairs

Von der Leyen: The modern conservative tipped to be Germany's next president

For years, Ursula von der Leyen has been among Germany's most popular politicians, now, the 51-year old has emerged as favorite to succeed Horst Koehler as the country's president.

Ursula von der Leyen

Von der Leyen enjoys broad political and popular backing

Should Germany's Federal Convention select Ursula von der Leyen as the country's next president on June 30, the two most senior political positions of the country would be held by women - with Angela Merkel currently Chancellor.

When asked whether she would be interested in the job, von der Leyen avoided any concrete statements of intent but there's little doubt she has the confidence to take over from Horst Koehler.

"We now need to find a good solution for the country under extreme time pressure," she said. "I think it's very important that the president enjoys a high level of trust from the people."

Von der Leyen started her political career rather late but quickly rose through the party ranks. It was not until 1990 that she joined the conservative Christian Democrat Party (CDU). She first studied economics and later medicine before going on to work as a doctor and in research.

She entered local politics in 1991 and less than two years later was elected into the state parliament of Lower Saxony, where became minister for social affairs. In 2005 Chancellor Angela Merkel took her to Berlin to become family minister.

Modernizing family policies

Children in a kindergarten

Von der Leyen was the driving force behind providing better child care

Herself a mother of seven, von der Leyen played a crucial role in the CDU winning over new voters by modernizing the party's all too conservative family policy.

She successfully fought for a modern, social familiy policy to give, for example, single mothers better career chances.

In 2009, von der Leyen became Germany's new labor minister after Franz Josef Jung resigned. Her new post has seen her popularity undiminished as the German labor market seemed to withstand the expected downturn in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Initial opinion polls suggest that von der Leyen is the politician who can muster more popular support than any of the other possible successors to Koehler. 40 percent of the population are in favor of a woman taking over the country's most senior post, while 25 percent would like to see von der Leyen herself take over.

The post of president is largely ceremonial in Germany, and the incumbent usually abstains from commenting on party politics. The president is however expected to act as a moral authority in wider national debates.

Popular and political backing

Born in 1958, von der Leyen hails from a family with a longstanding tradition in politics. Her father was former State Premier of Lower Saxony Ernst Albrecht, who also worked in Brussels for the EU's predecessor, the European Community. Von der Leyen spent the first few years of her life in Belgium.

Ursual von der Leyen

The Christian Democrat would be Germany's first woman president

Her husband is a professor of medicine Heiko von der Leyen. He counts among his ancestors a number of Prince Electors, who for centuries determined the succession of German emperors.

Cross-party backing

The leader of the opposition, Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel, has called for all parties to be included in the talks on who should succeed Koehler.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition however is expected to hold the majority in the Federal Convention, the body responsible for the selection of the next president.

Merkel has indicated they would try to find someone who would be accepted across the political spectrum. Should Berlin opt for Ursula von der Leyen, the government will likely have indeed picked a candidate that both the ruling coalition as well as many opposition politicians would support.

Editor: Rob Turner

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