Tuesday 20 August 2019

Hugh O'Connell: 'Surprise choice for the top job believes an EU army is already taking shape'

Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

At first glance, the European Council's decision to nominate Ursula Von der Leyen to become the first-ever female European Commission president is good news for Ireland.

She is a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a member of her Christian Democrats party which is affiliated to the European People's Party.

The EPP's solidarity with Ireland on Brexit has been rock solid for the past three years as the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar noted on his way out of Brussels last night.

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Ms Von der Leyen requires the approval of the European Parliament in Strasbourg and while Mr Varadkar assured her of the support of Fine Gael's five MEPs last night, other Irish representatives, including the recently-elected Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, are likely to oppose her.

That's because Ms Von der Leyen has frequently spoken in favour of greater security co-operation in the European Union, writing earlier this year that "Europe's army is already taking shape" in a strongly-worded opinion piece for 'Handelsblatt' entitled: "Europe is forming an army."

The Irish government, at present, is opposed to any suggestions of being part of a long-mooted EU army in the near future and Fine Gael blocked efforts to have the proposition included in the EPP's European elections manifesto earlier this year.

There are further indications that the Government and Ms Von der Leyen may not see eye-to-eye on everything.

She has, for example, also spoken frequently in favour of a federalist EU, something which may raise eyebrows not just here but across the continent.

"I imagine the Europe of my children or grandchildren not as a loose union of states trapped by national interests," she told 'Die Zeit' in 2015.

She has also previously outlined an ambition to model a future European Union on the United States of America or Germany.

Ms Von der Leyen (60) was born in Brussels where her father, a former prime minister of Lower Saxony, was an EU official before her family moved home to Germany when she was 13.

She studied economics at the London School of Economics before going on to do medicine in Hanover.

She is a mother of seven children, which in Germany is highly unusual.

Her appointment to the defence ministry in 2013 came as a surprise to many observers but she proved popular in her early years and was being tipped as a successor to Ms Merkel.

But more recently her tenure has been marred by controversies over deficiencies in Germany's armed forces, including shortages of personnel and inoperable aircraft and submarines. Last year she was questioned as part of an investigation into spending irregularities in the department.

She later admitted a number of errors and said new measures were being implemented to stop the same mistakes from being repeated.

But her concerns now will be much greater as she prepares - subject to parliamentary approval - to take up the role as the head of the European Union's civil service which drive everything from policy implementation, to legislative changes to trade deal negotiations.

Irish Independent

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