She has risen fast in German politics, Ursula von der Leyen. A CDU member since 1990, she has been family and health minister in Angela Merkel’s government since 2005, and now is taking her family politics to the EU level with calls to make EU policies more family friendly – see EUObserver. Other than guaranteed standards across Europe for maternity and paternity leave and pay, these issues still remain matters of national tradition and approach – and hence the demographic situation in different European countries varies widely. Is she the person to lead this issue though?
Somehow I am inherently suspicious of von der Leyen. She makes a lot of the fact that she has 7 children, but she is also from a secure, rich and aristocratic background, and represents a christian democrat party. From this basis she has built herself a reputation. Her father was a CDU politician, but she has also managed to build herself a career in a traditional and sometimes macho party. Understandably there are critics – in this interesting profile from TAZ (in German), SPD politician in Niedersachsen Regina Runge-Beneke states “Hätte sie nicht diese reiche Familie und das viele Personal, sie würde ganz anders reden.” (Translated: if the didn’t have this rich family and people to assist her, she would speak very differently).
I suppose this post asks more questions than it answers. But Europe has to cope with its depressing demographic outlook, and von der Leyen is certainly stating her case.
She is the daughter of a former prime minister of the German State of Lower Saxony (Ernst Albrecht). So she isn’t really from “a rich, aristocratic background”. Her husband is the “von der Leyen”, but a quick research didn’t reveal that this is a well.known aristocratic and overly wealthy family. And I rather prefer politicians who don’t enter politics to make a living as so many “career politicians” in Germany do.
After all, most successful politicians in Europe come from decent to upper middle-class backgrounds.
In the beginning I was quite suspicious of her as well, but I do sincerely think that she is doing a good job since she is also very much standing up against opposition from her own party. If you leave traditional German party ideology behind, it makes very much sense what she is promoting.