The Brief: Von der Leyen's path back to Brussels, Macron in Serbia, INF Treaty discussions continue

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has been nominated as European Commission President, briefs the media.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has been nominated as European Commission President, briefs the media. Copyright REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Copyright REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
By Elena Cavallone
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Even though Ursula von der Leyen is considered to lack EU experience by some, her life began in Brussels. Find out how her path led her back to the EU capital, as well as the latest political news, in the Brief from Brussels.

Who is Ursula von der Leyen?


Ursula von der Leyen is often described as a "political outsider," but her path to Brussels' top job began in the Belgian capital itself.

Von der Leyen was born in 1958 in the quiet district of Brussels called Ixelles. Europe was immediately part of her life, as her father Ernest Albrecht was a civil servant at the newly-created European Commission.

She spent her first thirteen years at the European School, where she learned French and English. However, she had to leave her school mates to return to Germany in 1971. Her father had become a member of the Parliament of Lower Saxony with the Christian Democrats in 1970.

Her calling to politics came in the late 90s. Before that, she married another German aristocrat, earned her medical diploma and raised seven children.

In 2005, von der Leyen was appointed as the Federal Minister of Family Affairs and Youth in the cabinet of Angela Merkel. During her mandate, she approved financial subsidies to promote parental leave and increased free childcare places.

She co-wrote a book called "We must change our country for women" with TV journalist and vice-chair of UNICEF Germany Maria von Welser.

"As every woman did, she wanted to have her job, and she wanted to have family and children," von Welser said. "And in my opinion, in Germany, it is so difficult to combine both together. I was divorced. I had children. I was in business. She helped amazingly to get the situation better in Germany."

She made the jump from social policies to the military in 2013 when she became Germany's defence minister.

It was a difficult transition — she faced charges of wrongdoing concerning the use of outside consultants. She has been accused of failing to fix the German army, as well as plagiarism in her doctoral thesis.

“I think in Germany Ursula Von der Leyen is a very divisive figure," said Peter Müller, a correspondent for Der Spiegel. "There are many people who love her, but there are also very many people who hate her."

Those who know her personally say that she doesn't like taking part in social events. Her fierce desire for privacy has earned her a reputation of coldness.

In Germany, she is considered an alliance builder. Some believe she lacks EU experience, but she never misses an opportunity to show her European credentials.

On Tuesday, MEPs will vote on her appointment to the European Commission presidency in Strasbourg.

Macron in Serbia

French President Emmanuel Macron is starting a two-day visit to Serbia.

His talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will focus on the country’s EU perspective.

Macron's visit is seen by observers as a softening stance on the debate over enlargement.

New commissioners join

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has conceded defeat in his fight against accepting new commissioners for the last few months of his term.

Two nominees from Estonia and Romania are now officially commissioners-designate.


However, they won't have their own portfolios due to the "short remainder of the mandate," which ends on October 31st.

EU asks Russia to preserve INF Treaty

The European Union has called on Russia to preserve the historic Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

In a statement, the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stressed the need to preserve the treaty on the elimination of medium-range and short-range missiles.

The treaty was signed in 1987 by Michail Gorbatchev and Ronald Reagan and was suspended by Russia a few weeks ago.

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