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

Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen was elected to be the next president of the European Commission on Tuesday with a slim majority.

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.

Of the 733 votes casted by members of the European Parliament, 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.