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Is Von Der Leyen the Leader Europe Needs?

Germany's Ursula von der Leyen is far from being a bad choice to be the next president of the European Commission. Yet, alongside the general sense of relief that EU leaders managed to agree on a candidate, a nagging doubt remains as to whether Europe will really have the best person – and team – at the helm.

PARIS – Charles de Gaulle had “a certain idea of France.” But does Ursula von der Leyen, the next president of the European Commission, have a certain idea of Europe, in the way Jacques Delors did when he held the European Union’s top job?

Perhaps this is an unfair and irrelevant question. After all, Delors’s own view of Europe evolved over time. And more generally, Europe’s politics (and therefore its politicians) have become more pragmatic and less idealistic in the half-century since de Gaulle’s death. Politicians nowadays are (at best) ambitious doers and, more often than not, astute survivors. Yet the next Commission president will take office at a time when Europe desperately needs a visionary leader rather than a mere dealmaker.

True, von der Leyen is far from being a bad choice. She will be the first woman to hold the EU’s top job, and the first German to do so since Walter Hallstein in the late 1950s and 1960s, when European integration was in its infancy. Moreover, von der Leyen is undeniably pro-European and Atlanticist. And as a former German defense minister, she is familiar with the increasingly critical security issues facing Europe.

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